One of the most welcome sights for a student out late at night in Collegetown or on West Campus is a 92 or a 93 pulling to a stop and opening its door. However, with the changes proposed by Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit Inc., these numbers will no longer be flashing across the front of a familiar blue and white TCAT bus.
TCAT currently serves 3.3 million riders per year. This represents a significant increase from the 2.4 million riders that rode in 1998 directly after the Ithaca Transit, C.U. Transit and TOMTRAN decided to consolidate. TCAT has not reevaluated its project as a whole since the consolidation in 1998. Now however, in a major overhaul, TCAT has launched its Transit Development Plan/ Development Study. [img_assist|nid=35039|title=Bus stop|desc=Students and other riders will have to get used to new TCAT bus routes.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Referencing the length of time between reviews, General Manager Joseph Turcottte said, “In the industry, seven to10 years is the norm for this type of revamping of the routes. What happens year to year in most systems, including TCAT, is we make little changes all the time to accommodate folks and then after seven to 10 years we have been steadily changing the system and not always for the best. We had all the right intentions but [the changes] perhaps led to a less efficient system. [With] the ridership changes [and] populations shift, [TCAT has] got to stay up to date.”
In accordance with these concerns, the development plan will consider four areas: simplification of the fixed route system, introduction of alternative services, improving technology use and better use of finances. All of the above are being measured with regards to current property situations, current developments and the commuting patterns of the people who ride with TCAT.
TCAT has published a set of draft recommendations that are being presented in a series of public meetings to assess rider feedback on the proposed changes. At the meetings, TCAT representatives will also discuss the changes with riders and answer questions regarding the proposed changes. Ultimately, TCAT plans on having a final plan approved by riders by the summer of 2009.
Turcotte explained that the entire process is a compromise.
“People are nervous when we say we are eliminating a route. But in essence, what we are doing is still serving [that same area], but with another route. [TCAT] is eliminating unproductive portions of a route. Our riders will have to really look at at the service they use now to see how the new service will work for them.”
The Development Plan proposes that 29 of the 37 TCAT routes will be altered or combined in some way. For example, Cornell’s campus is served on the weekend and evenings by routes 85, 92 and 93. The plan suggests combining these three routes into a single route 85, which would cover one consistent route on the weekends and evenings.
The proposed changes will not only affect riders, but bus operators as well. The operators of the TCAT buses seem to be on board with the changes.
“[Bus operators] have open communication with supervisors to express concern and [management] is very open to discussion. It’s a good thing,” said Robert Weaver, operator of route 81. “They are trying to run the organization more efficiently [with] fewer empty buses.”
Unfortunately for TCAT, not everyone is as accepting of the proposed plan. Mike, an Ithaca resident, said, “My opinion is that some of the ways they have changed things are for the better, but some of the things they have done are not for the best. I ride down to work, which is past Wal-Mart, and they are proposing to cut that extension. Instead, I would have to ride a different bus and get [to work] an hour earlier.”
Mike went on to elaborate on how TCAT has been responding to his criticisms.
“I have called in [to TCAT] a couple of times and left some messages about the 15 and the 13, and they brought the proposal back. So they are taking some input into it. If they weren’t they wouldn’t have brought the proposal back up,” Mike said.
This change, and changes similar to it, are being proposed in order to streamline operations and to eliminate duplications of service, while still adding stops to areas that are under-served, making better use of all of TCAT’s resources. While a streamlining of service of the Cornell night buses could potentially mean adding stops to the route, it could also potentially mean changes in operation on West Campus and it would eliminate service to Snyder Hill Road and Honness Lane.
However, proposed changes do not faze some riders.
“I don’t know the routes really well anyway. My decision to ride a bus is more spontaneous. I find a stop and then I wait for the bus to come. I might be confused at first, because I recognize the 92 and 93 as buses that will take me home, but I don’t think it will be a big deal ultimately,” Erica Frederickson ’11 said.
Whatever the outcome, TCAT is stressing the importance of public opinion in the project.
“The main point is that TCAT is turning up our ears. We want to know what people are thinking. To produce the best plan that we can, input is so valuable. It will be a lot of work over the next couple of months to bring everyone’s comments to the table and find ultimately what the best plan is. I can’t emphasize public participation enough,” Turcotte said.
TCAT will continue to host public meetings to discuss their development plan both on and off campus until today. For more information regarding meetings see tcatbus.com.