Bus service may slow down for summer, warns TCAT

This summer may bring about a sharp reduction in bus service, warn officials at Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, or TCAT. Public information sessions are planned to share details and seek rider input.

A large portion of TCAT's ridership includes Cornell and Ithaca College staff and students.

A large portion of TCAT’s ridership includes Cornell and Ithaca College staff and students.

According to a statement, the service reduction may be required due to low staffing levels. “TCAT normally reduces service in the summer as most college students, many of whom are TCAT riders, leave the area for summer break,” the organization said, but TCAT is “considering making additional cuts this summer to level with the number of drivers it has.”

Public information sessions are planned next Tuesday, April 5th, at the Borg Warner East room at the Tompkins County Public Library in Downtown Ithaca. Two sessions are scheduled from Noon-2pm and 5:30-7:30pm. The agency has also scheduled more info sessions at Cornell, from which TCAT gets about 70% of its ridership during the academic year and about 50% during the summer. Those sessions are 5:30-7:30pm on Thursday, April 7th in 226 Weill Hall, and 11am-1pm on Friday, April 8th in the Maplewood Apartments community center on Maple Avenue.

Service reductions are proposed on Routes 10, 11, 14, 15, 20, 21,22, 31, 32, 36, 37, 41, 51, 52, 65, 81, 82, 90, and 93 during the agency’s summer service period, which runs from May 22nd through August 20th this year.

TCAT is a non-profit corporation established as a joint effort by Cornell University, Tompkins County, and the City of Ithaca to provide public transportation for Tompkins County. Annual ridership on the fleet of about fifty buses, including eight hybrid electric-diesel buses, is nearly 4.3 million, covering a distance of 1.6 million miles, TCAT said last summer, as they reached a new arrangement with Cornell to increase its annual volume payments. That agreement came not long after TCAT cut some of its service to Cornell’s campus, though, eliminating stops at B Lot, a parking lot on the southeast edge of campus that many staff members use. Some staff said at the time that the service cuts make it difficult for them to get to their workplace on campus after parking in the periphery lots.

TCAT’s statement this week says the consortium has “ramped up recruitment efforts with outreach, but given the tight labor market especially for commercial drivers, has been unsuccessful at bringing staffing to optimal levels.” Acting general manager Alice Eccleston adds, “We have to face a new reality that we cannot promise or advertise a service we cannot fulfill.”

TCAT has been filling gaps in their schedule with contract drivers since November, they say, but it’s intended to be a short-term measure. “Using costly contract workers over the summer to fill gaps could be just delaying the inevitable,” according to TCAT board member Bridgette Brady.

“We don’t want to inconvenience people more than we have to,” says TCAT service analyst Matt Yarrow, who has been working on scenarios to trim service as equitably as possible.

Passengers can view specific proposed service cuts at tcatbus.com, and TCAT invites comments at tcat@tcatmail.com or 607-277-7433 (RIDE) option 3.

“Passengers need reliability and our bus operators, who work long, nontraditional hours, need their time off as anyone else who holds a job,” says Eccleston. “As painful as service reductions are to our community, being unreliable to our passengers and driver burnout are even worse.”

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