Aging fleet, maintenance staff turnover and state Department of Transportation regulations have forced TCAT to cancel trips during peak times, leaving some students left waiting for a ride longer than normal.
Twelve of the 53 buses in TCAT’s fleet have aged beyond their minimum life expectancy of 12 years, while several were lost due to mechanical issues in the past year, according to Scot Vanderpool, TCAT’s general manager.
“Obviously, the older the bus, the more repairs it will need in most cases,” Vanderpool told the Sun in an email. “The combination of loss of buses and old existing older buses has made it difficult.”
In February, an average of four trips per weekday were cancelled due to the shortage, with a maximum of fifteen missed trips early last week, according to a press release. TCAT dispatchers have been canceling trips on high-frequency routes — such as routes 10, 30 and 82 — that generally arrive at stops in 10- to 15-minute intervals, causing some of those routes to be more full than usual at peak times
“Indeed, it is an inconvenience, but we stay away from low-frequency routes, mostly rural, which would leave passengers waiting an hour or longer for the next bus to come along,” Vanderpool said. “We ask that everyone be patient. We are working very hard to solve this situation as quickly as possible.”
TCAT purchased five used buses several months ago, but they have required rehabilitation to bring them up to safety codes. One of those buses has already been deployed after receiving repairs, and another one is set to enter service next week, Vanderpool said.
Another nine new buses have been ordered, but will not arrive until September.
TCAT is also using third-party garages to help fulfill maintenance requirements as well as restructuring its own maintenance department “to place more focus on getting more buses on the road while adhering to what has become increasingly stricter DOT regulations,” according to a press release last week.
In the meantime, TCAT has contracted Fitzgerald Brothers, a local charter service, to supply two additional buses, according to a second press release. Route numbers will be posted on the passenger entry side of the buses, which will not bear TCAT’s signature livery.
“Cornell’s three TCAT board members, along with city and county colleagues, voted on additional buses last Friday afternoon, and the new short-term program started Monday,” John Carberry, Cornell senior director of media relations, said in an email to The Sun. “Cornell has the best interest of students, staff and faculty in mind as we monitor the situation to determine if the short-term solution is effective.”
Vanderpool said that he expects things to improve in the next two to three weeks.
“To us, the only acceptable metric is zero percent missed trips,” he said.
Riders can find information about routes and cancellations on the TCAT website’s Bus Tracker or apps such as Ithaca Transit – Live Tracking or myStop Mobile.