TCAT is seeking to bring ridership up to pre-pandemic levels by expanding its number of routes and continuing COVID-safe practices.
Ridership has declined steeply due to COVID-19, hitting an all time low this fall of 10 percent of pre-pandemic numbers. Currently, ridership is 25 percent of what it was pre-COVID.
As the spring semester kicks off, TCAT planners are working to balance the needs of frequent riders with the reduced demand from Cornell students, according to TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool.
“Our planners continue to have the difficult task of trying to predict the pandemic’s trajectory and impact on demand,” Vanderpool wrote in an email to The Sun.
He said TCAT changed routes, keeping in mind the needs of essential workers and transit-dependent populations. For example, they cut late night routes instead of daytime ones.
“It is imperative we retain and eventually restore as much service as possible,” Vanderpool said. “Otherwise, we risk losing more ridership.”
According to Vanderpool, this decline in ridership can be attributed to riders working from home as well as COVID concerns, despite the safety measures initiated by TCAT which include a mask mandate on all buses.
While TCAT has been making an effort to incentivize riders through free Wi-Fi and stricter COVID precautions, students did not consider the renovations to be deciding factors in their use of the bus system.
Max Rauch ’24 uses the TCAT around four times a week to get around campus and to Collegetown. “I think the TCAT plays a valuable role in helping students without cars get around town and has definitely enabled me to make the most of my freshman year,” he said.
While Rauch is happy with his experience, he wishes the TCAT expanded its late-night offerings, as it can be difficult to get back to his dorm on North Campus.
Thomas Wu ’24 primarily uses the TCAT to get to classes on the engineering quad from North Campus.
“I think it’s running pretty well, especially considering COVID, though I have nothing to compare it to,” Wu said. “However, I am concerned about the lack of social distancing when the bus comes close to capacity.”
Neither students were aware of the fact that the TCAT recently installed Wi-Fi on their buses and said that it would not impact their ridership.
However, students are still slowly returning to TCAT buses to get to classes and access other places in Ithaca.
“Over the course of 2020, non-Cornell ridership did not take as much of a hit as Cornell ridership — but in 2021 there are indications that student ridership is increasing and that is a good sign,” Vanderpool said.