Dear CATA: Going Fare-Free Is Not the Solution
CATA announced on Monday that it would be exploring the possibility of expanding its fare-free routes beyond the traditional Loops and Links. The general idea would be that routes which traditionally service student apartment complexes (Vairo Blvd, Aaron Drive, Waupelani), where bus passes are paid by the apartment complexes, would become fare-free with a Penn State ID card. The cost of this would be picked up by the University. CATA plans to use a $100,000 PennDOT grant to conduct the survey.
My question is: Why is CATA trying to mess with a system that generally works? The fare based routes (according to CATA’s own end-year report) account for only about 40% of the ridership on the system, and seem to work decently well on the whole.
Were I to have access to $100,000 of federal money to improve CATA, I would study why CATA seems completely incapable of augmenting their service to account for increased levels of riders. CATA knows where its buses are, it knows how many people are on those buses, so they can clearly see when their buses fill. And yet, there are the same number of Blue Loops on campus in 75 degree and sunny weather as there are on days with blizzard-like conditions. (Snow day? Yeah right.) CATA should be working on a system that allows for them to dynamically alter where their buses are going based on the ridership of specific routes.
There are many predictable times when ridership drastically increases, based on weather or other events. It wouldn’t be too difficult for a system to be designed that responded dynamically (or at least, more dynamically!). Heck, we have one of the best supply chain management programs in the country, surely one of those classes could figure it out.