With in-person classes back in session at Cornell and Ithaca College, the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit has been working to adjust to the increase in ridership after a year of diminished service.
During the 2020-21 academic year, the TCAT faced a steep drop in ridership because of pandemic cuts to funding, leading to hiring freezes and layoffs at the start of the fall 2020 semester.
“We’ve really had to work hard to get us in a place where we’d be ready for on-campus learning,” said Scot Vanderpool, the General Manager of TCAT.
According to Vanderpool, during the spring 2021 semester, TCAT’s ridership was around 35 percent of expected levels. However, with Cornell’s transition into an in-person semester, ridership has increased back up to 80 percent of its pre-pandemic levels.
The increase in ridership has not gone unnoticed.
Matt Yarrow, the assistant general manager of TCAT, explained that it was difficult to measure this year’s demand after last year’s depressed ridership and the introduction of new buildings on North campus.
“We’re trying to put enough service out there to meet demand, but [people should] also be aware that we may not know [what] demand really is anymore,” said Yarrow.
TCAT did not recruit drivers throughout last year, which has resulted in fewer drivers than they would normally have during the fall semester. While TCAT usually has around 86 to 87 drivers, this semester, they only have around 78 to 79 and are training a new class of five drivers to supplement the busiest routes.
Utilizing these new drivers, the TCAT will continue to make adjustments throughout the fall semester by adding standby drivers or backup buses based on service levels.
Yarrow elaborated that TCAT will further address these problems in the long term in the spring semester by looking at ridership data to understand what the patterns are and how they have changed from 2019.
“In a way, it’s a relief to see people coming back and riding,” he said. “I feel badly that people are getting left at stuff… but I would say to folks, bear with us and we aim to really be able to meet capacity later this fall and definitely by spring.”