CATA Provides Excellent Service for Centre Region

CATA Provides Excellent Service for Centre Region

by Hugh Mose

Most people would agree that, for a small community, the State College area enjoys a really good public transportation system. However, in spite of the excellent service that the Centre Area Transportation Authority provides, in truth, we are just scratching the surface compared to what really needs to be done.

CATA excels in providing an alternative to driving on and around the Penn State campus and in those corridors where there are high concentrations of student housing. CATA runs buses from early in the morning until late at night, at fairly frequent intervals, nearly every day of the year. Buses are often crowded, but the service is available.

CATA also provides a highly regarded dial-a-ride service for seniors and persons with disabilities. The service is actually operated by Handy Delivery, under contract to CATA, and the seniors’ part of the program is underwritten by state lottery funds.

However, outside of those two areas, public transportation in our community is pretty scant. For instance, in many neighborhoods, CATA operates only a “commuter” level of bus service, meaning typically two trips during the morning rush hour, two in the afternoon and one at midday.

Outside of the Centre Region, public transit service is especially thin. Although the Centre County Transportation Office does provide service for seniors, people with disabilities and those with other special needs, it’s generally client-based, and individual trips are difficult to schedule.

The end result of all of this is a very unbalanced, and in many ways unfair, distribution of public transportation benefits. For instance, if you are a Penn State student who has the means to bring a car to Happy Valley, chances are you’ll find housing on Vairo Boulevard, Martin Street or a similar area. If you do, you’ll have access to excellent transit service.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you are a working person living in a modest home out in Houserville, your bus will come by only five times a day, and unless you work downtown or on campus, you’ll have to change buses to get to your destination.

The same is true if you are a senior. If you’ve had enough good fortune in life to be able to retire to State College and you live at the Village at Penn State, Foxdale or a similar facility, you’ll get excellent transit service. The CENTRE LINE bus will come by once an hour all day long, and―even better―you have virtually unlimited access to dial-a-ride service, often provided by a taxicab. On the other hand, if you have lived your entire life in the rural part of Centre County and you’re trying to stay in your home in your retirement years, you get back practically nothing.

So what’s the solution? First of all, we need to agree that public transportation is not just a service for the Centre Region, where the municipalities have the financial resources to support it. Census data confirm that by practically any measure of transit need (household income, level of auto ownership, percentage of seniors, etc.), the outlying areas are where people would get the most benefit. Transit appropriate to the scale of the community needs to be provided throughout Centre County.

Second, we need to ensure that there is funding adequate to support a critical mass of public transportation. While the new state transportation legislation provides increased funding, it’s mainly a mechanism to keep existing programs intact and has limited ability to fund the expansion of public transportation. If we are going to develop a truly comprehensive network of transit services in Centre County, we are going to have to commit local resources.

Third, we need to view public transportation as more than just conventional “city bus” service. It needs to be seen as a range of alternatives to solo driving.

For instance, for the Penn State student living on Waupelani Drive, it may well be a regular bus. For a person with disabilities, however, it could just as easily be dial-a-ride service. For the service sector employee commuting from Huntingdon, it may be a carpool or vanpool. For the low-income individual needing medical services out of the county, it could be a volunteer driving a personal automobile.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, we absolutely must make land-use and development decisions that enable public transportation to be a viable alternative to the private automobile. CATA can have the best employees, the best equipment, the best customer information and the best network of routes and schedules, but if the street network is not compatible with transit, if new developments make it challenging for the buses to get in and out, and if people can’t easily get to and from the bus stops, it simply won’t work.

The evidence suggests that just about the best thing that we can do for the environment, political stability in the world, our international trade deficit and our own individual pocketbooks is to consume less oil, and the single best way to do that is to drive less. However, for that to become a reality, our political leaders need to make good land-use decisions and then provide adequate funding support.

As individuals, we need to consider public transportation when we make major life decisions, such as choosing where to live and work. And each one of us needs to make a personal commitment, whenever we possibly can, to doing something other than driving alone.

Hugh Mose has been the general manager of the Centre Area Transportation Authority since 1995. He previously managed transit systems in Iowa, California and Washington.  He currently serves as the vice chair for Small Operations of the American Public Transportation Association.


As a person who did not

As a person who did not drive and used public transportation while living in State College form 2001 to 2006, I appreciated the affordability of CATA's service, compared to my hometown of Pittsburgh.  In addition, I agree with the fact that  CATA's routes need to be more flexible in terms of their coverage area.  Many times, which searching for jobs in State College, I was limited by where the bus went, the same problem arose when trying to make living arrangements.  I am glad that this issue, as well as others, are being addressed.


"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller

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