Public transit organizations provide important services which alleviate congestion and which offer mobility to those who have no other transportation options. While they all have some common objectives and challenges, transit organizations are each unique, based largely on differences in the communities they serve and in the political landscape they operate under at both the state and local level. Next week, we'll hear from 2 speakers who represent two separate transit organizations.
Our first speaker will be Dr. Minhua Wang. Dr. Wang has over 25 years' experience in IT and GIS, has served multiple positions in government agencies, software development companies, and consulting firms. Dr. Wang has developed expertise and reputations in the areas of GIS for transportation or (GIS-T), Public Transit, and transportation software development and implementation. His experiences in the transportation GIS field include data modeling, enterprise architecture design, system integration, application development, asset management, and GIS technology implementation. Dr. Wang currently serves as GIS Manager in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA). He has overall responsibility for administrative, technical and managerial tasks necessary for the development and operation of Metro’s enterprise Geographic Information System. He has involved considerable interaction, cooperation and collaboration with managers throughout Metro, and officials of other public agencies and regional partners in the design, development, and implementation of the geographic information system and related products to meet various needs and functions. Prior to WMATA, Dr. Wang served as Project Manager at DC Department of Transportation (DDOT), Group Leader at CitiLabs (a Transportation Planning Software company), Enterprise Architect at KCI Technology Inc., and Technical Architect/Director of Application Development at Geodecisions. Dr. Wang holds a Ph.D. degree in GIS from the University of Waterloo, Canada, and an MS degree in Remote Sensing and a BS degree in Geography from Peking University, China.
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA)
WMATA serves the greater Washington DC area and is one of the largest transit agencies in the United States.
Our second speaker will be Ryan Harshbarger, Director of Transportation for the Centre Area Transportation Authority (CATA). Ryan has been with the Authority for eight years, starting his career at CATA as a Transportation Data Analyst, before transitioning to his current role. Previously, he worked in inventory control for several private sector businesses with a focus on Lean/Six Sigma process improvement. Ryan has been heavily involved in the advancement of CATA’s Intelligent Transportation System, serving as the program lead on several projects to enhance both the components on the vehicles and deployment of new software for internal and external consumption.
Centre Area Transportation Authority (CATA)
CATA is a transportation organization which services portions of Centre County, Pennsylvania. One of the factors which differentiates CATA is the presence of Penn State University which lies within its service area.
In order to get an overview of how a transit organization operates, watch this 55-minute video on CATA’s operations which was produced by the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN).
HUGH MOSE: I'm Hugh Mose, and I'm the general manager at the Centre Area Transportation Authority. We're the public transportation provider in State College, Bellefonte, and the surrounding areas of Centre County. In that area, we provide three different types of service. First is CATA Bus. That's what everybody knows, because those are the big orange and white buses that you see all over the Centre region.
The second part of our program is called CATA Ride. That's a dial-a-ride program for seniors and persons with disabilities. And then the third, newest, and fastest growing program that we offer we call CATA Commute, and that's car pools, van pools, and all kinds of services that are designed to meet the needs of long distance commuters. We're really pleased to have the opportunity to talk about CATA, and particularly some of the things that we're doing to promote the intelligent use of energy resources.
CATA has been around since 1974, but that's not really the beginning of public transportation in Centre County. Public transportation has existed here since way back into the '40s, and perhaps earlier. Although we've never had streetcars in this community, we had bus services that were designed to meet the needs of people who, at that time, did not have very ready access to the private automobile.
As was the case in so many communities around the nation-- and in fact, worldwide-- after World War II, things started happening that didn't work very well for public transportation, and one by one all of the private operators pretty much fell by the wayside. And the same thing happened here.
In State College, Fullington operated a bus service, but by the early 1970s, the service was losing money and the proprietor went to the borough and said, "We need to do something or I'm going to have to discontinue running bus service." State College wanted to have bus service. So, at that point, we were created as a publicly funded and publicly organized enterprise.
Initially we were just a borough authority. But after a few years, we were reconstituted to be a five member municipal authority, and over the years since then, we have grown to the point where we now serve nine of Centre County's 35 municipalities.
As a municipal authority, CATA is comprised of five member municipalities. Each of those municipalities gets to appoint one member, so we have a five member governing body. And that body represent the interests of the municipalities that we serve.
We have a long tradition of very strong involvement on our board of directors. Our board chair has been on our board for over 30 years. We have another board member 25 years. Another one, almost 20 years. We have just in my estimation the absolute best board of directors that a transit system could have, and I am completely committed to the notion that the success of an organization starts at the top. And the leadership that we have with our board and the support that we have from the municipalities who have created us have made all the difference.
This is CATA's nerve center. This is our dispatch center where we keep track of everything that's happening out on the street. There are really four different functions that occur here. We have a dispatcher, we have an operation supervisor. And they deal with bus drivers across the counter, they deal with employees as well as the public over the telephone. They deal with the drivers out on the street via two way radio. And most recently, we have gotten fully involved in technology to the point now that we have the ability to use GPS to see in real time how the system on the street is performing.
But this is a place that is staffed almost 24/7. Our first buses pull out at about 4:30 in the morning, and on the weekends the last buses don't come in until about 4:00 o'clock the following morning. So, this really is the place where it all happens. We have two dispatchers, and we have five operations supervisors. And between the seven of them, they make sure that there's a presence in this room at all times. And as much as we can, that we have somebody in a sedan, or an Explorer out on the street looking after things as they're happening.
And this is really critically important, because CATA is in many ways unique among small transit systems in Pennsylvania. This is a small community. But because of the nature of the State College community, we have many attributes of our transit system that are like you would find only in a big city.
We have buses that are absolutely crammed on a regular basis. We have buses that run on very close frequencies, as close as every five or six minutes. We have situations where the buses are running in a platoon, because there are so many people trying to ride that they won't fit on one, or two, or three, sometimes they won't even fit on four buses, all coming into the campus and the downtown area at the same time. So, keeping all of that squared away is critically important, and it is a big, big challenge.
Over the last half dozen years, CATA has gone from having virtually no GPS-based technology to having a very complete system. We now have the ability to track in real time the location of every bus that's out on the street. We even have the ability, through the automatic passenger counters, to have a very good approximation of how many people are on each bus at any point in time.
And it makes it very, very helpful for the folks who are working to dispatch the service on the street to be able to keep track of what's happening and take corrective action when we see that buses are falling behind schedule, or buses are getting overcrowded, or we have other idiosyncrasies that need to be dealt with. It's a very sophisticated approach, but it's one that has proven to be incredibly beneficial.
We started with the idea that this would be something to help us manage the service on the street, and that's absolutely true. But what has happened is we have also discovered that we're able to capture data that we never had before that is very useful in our service planning process to help us understand the ebbs and flows of passenger demand.
And the part of this that we completely did not realize was the value that this technology has for customer service. We now have the ability for our customers to be able to see in real time exactly where their bus is, or its expected arrival. And we do that through our online presence, we do it through a variety of smartphone apps and, just this year, we have started a system of text messages.
So, if you're going out to wait for your bus, you can automatically text CATA and get an immediate response of when your bus will be arriving. Not when it's supposed to arrive, but when it really will be there. And in my view-- and I've been in public transportation a long time-- the ability for the customer to know exactly where their bus is and when it's going to arrive is a complete game changer.
The provision of transit service is a pretty complicated process. I'm certain from the eyes of the particular bus rider it may seem pretty straightforward, but I'm here to tell you that we have a very complex situation in terms of the scheduling of our bus drivers. I'm joined here today by Chris and Jen, and they are the folks who are responsible every day for working through this incredibly complicated scheduling process.
If you think about it, bus drivers typically work an eight hour day. The buses go out on the street in some cases 4 o'clock in the morning, and they don't come back till midnight. Other buses go out at 6:30 in the morning, and they're back here by 9 o'clock. So, what we're constantly doing is putting together all of these pieces into eight hour shifts, and then assigning them-- and it's typically done by a bidding system based on seniority. And complicating things further, people are on vacation, people are off sick, people are on jury duty, people are on military leave. There are always holes in the schedule that need to be filled.
So, it's an incredibly complicated process, and I absolutely tip my hat to our operations supervisors and our dispatchers. Because the job falls to them, and it has to be done every day, 360 plus days a year.
CATA currently operates 66 buses in our active fleet. What we have here is a good example of a bus that was purchased new in 1997. We got into natural gas as a vehicle fuel starting in 1996, and we began buying buses and replacing our old equipment. So, we bought buses almost every year for about five years running. But by 2005, we had replaced all of our old diesel buses with new, clean burning natural gas buses.
So, what you have here is what I would refer to as a first generation bus. And our fleet is mainly comprised of this sort of vehicle. It's a low floor, 35 or 40 foot bus that is designed to transport anywhere between 40 and, under crush capacity, as many as 70 people.
The things that might make a bus like this unique are, of course, the natural gas power. But we also have these buses equipped for the transportation of bicycles. Just to give an example, this bus right here has a bicycle rack. It can be folded down, bicycles placed right on it, and they're carried out over the front bumper of the bus. And it looks like it might be complicated, but it really is very straightforward. And we've had a lot of success. In fact, we were the first transit system in Pennsylvania to have bike racks on all of our buses.
Moving down the line, this next bus is what I would refer to as the second generation. When we first started our natural gas program in '96, we had 16 new buses. By 2011, 2012, those buses were just about worn out. And we were fortunate that we were able to get some grant funding to enable us to purchase 28 of these second generation buses.
These are about as close to the state of the art as you can imagine. They're equipped with bike racks, technology. They have video cameras on board to give us the ability to review any incidents that happen on the interior, and even the exterior of the buses. And these buses also, obviously, have the bike racks. And in this case, it's a three-bike rack. One, two, three. Again we've had a lot of success with these. And so, as we bought these buses, we increased our bike carrying capacity by 50%.
Continuing on down the line, these are more buses that go back to the late 1990s. And as we continue, we will come to one smaller vehicle, which I think is important to talk about. Over here, we have what we refer to as a CATA Commute van pool.
CATA has gotten into the van pool program over the last seven or eight years. And this is a technique that is used to provide transportation alternatives for long distance commuters. We can do a great job in and around the State College Bellefonte area with our conventional bus service. But if you're commuting from Lewistown, or Lock Haven, or Hollidaysburg, or Altoona, or Tyrone, or any of the outlying communities, bus service is really not a viable option, at least in our way of thinking.
So, we have gradually evolved to our CATA Commute program, which includes car pool matching, van pools, and other services that are designed to help people find alternatives to solo driving. The van pools have just been incredibly popular. We started with six that we inherited from Penn State back in 2007, and now, we currently have 41 van pools on the road coming in from all over central Pennsylvania, to Penn State, and also to state correction institution at Rock View and Benner.
I think it is probably the most efficient way of providing alternatives to driving alone. Because in the case of a van pool, CATA provides the van, we insure the van, we maintain the van. We give the group that's in the van a Sheetz card so that they can gas it up. And then we calculate all the costs and add it all up, and then we charge the group what that dollar figure is. And as a result, we can cover essentially all of the out-of-pocket costs for the operation of the van. And the people who are in the van can probably commute for an entire month for the cost of what it would take if they were driving their own automobile.
This is CATA's bus maintenance facility. If you look around, you can see behind me several different buses that are in the process of being repaired. Activity goes on here practically around the clock. We operate three shifts almost seven days a week. And if our dispatch center is the heart of what CATA is all about, our maintenance area is the muscle.
Because with 68 buses, and the requirement to have as many as 58 on the street at any one time, it is a constant activity to keep all of the buses in a state of good repair. We have 28 buses that are only a year and a half old. The rest of the fleet is getting up there in age, going back to the earliest buses built in 1996, '97, '98, 2001, and so forth. And some of these buses have as many as 300,000 or more miles. So, consequently, the amount of maintenance activity is really pretty significant. But we have a fantastic maintenance crew.
I think we are a great organization through and through. But if there's one area that is particularly noteworthy, it is the crew that we have that maintains and services the buses. Because we do virtually everything in-house, from rebuilding engines to servicing every aspect of the bus. And the only things that we don't do ourselves are things that it financially makes more sense to farm out, even though we could do them with our own talent.
We have roughly 20 people that work in maintenance. And as I said, they are here around the clock. During the day time we're doing major repairs. In the evening when the buses come off the street, we're doing the daily servicing. We fuel the buses, we check the fluids, we empty the fare boxes. We do all of the things that are necessary to get the bus ready for the following day.
And then overnight, we do what I would refer to as running repairs. These are the little things that the bus drivers report that need to be done to make sure the bus is ready to go the following day. It could be something as simple as fixing a loose wheelchair securement device, or replacing a burned out light bulb. There are always things that need to be done.
But we get them done, or we make sure that we have enough buses to meet what the industry would call morning pull-out every day. And I've been here 18 years, and I cannot think of a time when we were not able to field the necessary number of buses to meet the requirements of our passengers. And that's about the highest compliment that I can provide to the crew of folks that are doing our maintenance for us.
We are now standing in CATA's parts room. If you look around, you'll be able to see that we are stacked almost floor to ceiling with various bins, and drawers, and stacked up parts. The reason for this incredible array of material is that CATA is currently operating a bus fleet of 66, a van pool fleet of almost 50, about 20 other assorted vehicles, in a garage that was designed for 40 buses.
So, we are just incredibly overwhelmed. We don't have enough space to store the parts, we really don't have enough space to store the buses. We have to keep some outside. And we certainly don't have enough space to do all of the ongoing repairs, which is one of the reasons that we work three shifts around the clock.
But just looking at some of the things that are-- I won't say scattered around, but stacked around. As you can see, we've got drawers, and we've got bins, but we don't have nearly enough space for all the material that needs to be in here. So, we've got it stacked on top of every compartment, and we have another couple of areas outside which were never intended to be parts storage, but have ended up being pressed into duty because we simply don't have enough space.
Most transit systems of our size would have a completely separate area for fare box repair. This is our fare box shop. I mean, what you can see is a cart with a couple of fare box assemblies. And this is where we try to diagnose and correct problems that we're having with our fare boxes.
We have other situations very similar to this. If we walk outside to our engine rebuild area, you will see an area that was designed for rebuilding of engines, and transmissions, and other components. And now, it's completely full of spare engines, and spare transmissions, and spare other assemblies, because we simply don't have any room.
Fortunately, we are on the verge of being able to construct a new maintenance facility that will be twice as large as we have now, and will solve the problems that currently surround me.
This is the centerpiece of CATA's natural gas fuel initiative. CATA was one of the pioneers in Pennsylvania in the use of natural gas as a vehicle fuel. Our initial evaluation went back to 1991. By 1993, we had made the decision to embrace natural gas as a vehicle fuel. And by 1996, this fueling facility behind me had been constructed, and our first 60 natural gas buses were on the road.
The way this system works is pretty straightforward. We have a very good supply of natural gas in the street. In the street, it's at 50 pounds per square inch. We have a line that comes off the main right up to this compressor building, and the compressors that you see here will take the gas and compress it from 50 PSA up to 4,000 pounds per square inch, which is really quite high pressure.
However, you need that extremely high pressure in order to be able to get enough gas into the tanks that are on the buses so that they can stay in service all year. Without getting into all the technical details, let it suffice to say that these are pretty sophisticated pieces of equipment, and we have a very strong crew of technicians who are able to maintain and operate them.
When I talk about our program, I always make sure I mention Ed. If you're going to be in something as sophisticated as this, particularly as a transit system that really doesn't know a lot about natural gas, you really have to have a product champion.
And in our case, we were so fortunate that we had a mechanic. His name is Ed Delbaggio. And when we first got into natural gas, he was working on second shift when the buses were fueled, and the compressors were in operation. And he took this under his wing, and he made it work for us. And I cannot say enough good things about our entire maintenance crew, but particularly Ed Delbaggio. Because in the early years when we were still learning how all of this worked, he's the person that kept us afloat when things didn't always work quite the way that we had anticipated.
The natural gas fueling system consists of three components. First there are the compressors where the gas is compressed to extremely high pressures, and then there are these storage bottles. And without getting into all the technical details, when you're fueling with a gaseous fuel as opposed to a liquid, you really need a mechanism to help you fuel efficiently. And these bottles enable us to do that by having a low bank, a mid bank, and a high bank. It simply enables us to get the gas out of the system and into the buses as efficiently as possible.
This is one of CATA's second generation buses that's pulling up to the fuel island to be fueled with natural gas. The fueling process itself is not terribly sophisticated. In fact, unless you look really carefully, it's kind of hard to tell that it's any different than if the bus was being fueled with diesel fuel.
But there is a critical difference. And that is, we are fueling with extremely high pressure natural gas. But as soon as our technician Ed gets here, we'll be able to see exactly how it works.
What Ed will do is simply insert the dispenser nozzle and make a positive high pressure connection, and then turn on the dispenser, and the gas will flow.
Natural gas is not typically purchased in gallon increments. But for the purposes of tracking our utilization, we meter it in gallons, even though, of course, as a gas you would never see it in a gallon jug or a gallon can. But that's the way that we track it for purposes of calculating the amount that we're using and the fuel efficiency that we're getting.
Natural gas is a very good fuel. It's not a perfect fuel. Natural gas is less energy dense than diesel, which means it doesn't have quite the power that a comparable diesel fuel would have. But in a transit bus application, that's not really very noticeable, because the buses themselves are not operating at high speeds or doing a lot of, in our community, hill climbing, or other high intensity use.
However, it is worth noting that we've had a terrifically good experience in the nearly 20 years that we've been using natural gas, in that we have seen that it is a very low polluting fuel, it's a very inexpensive fuel, it's a very good fuel in terms of our commitment to energy independence, and it's also a fuel that we have learned will be very sensitive to the environment.
CATA has the ability to rebuild practically any component that we have on the buses. But in doing so, we have a couple of very significant challenges. First of all, this is our rebuild shop. Unfortunately, it's not a shop at all. It's a space right off our main vehicle maintenance floor where we've crammed in all kinds of engines, and transmissions, and other subassemblies because we have nowhere else to put them.
The other issue we have is training our staff so that we can do all of this work ourselves. Diesel mechanics are hard to find anyway. But somebody who is qualified not only with diesel, but also with natural gas is an extreme rarity. So, not only do we have the constraint of our physical plant, but we have the constraint associated with training our staff to competency so that they can do all of the work that's necessary to repair and maintain our natural gas field equipment.
It's a big challenge for us. We're looking forward to a day when we can build a new maintenance facility that will have appropriate facilities for the rebuilding of engines, transmissions, and other components. But until that time, we're doing the best we can with what we have. But as I've said, it is an incredible challenge, and I give our maintenance staff incredibly big kudos for their ability to work within these constraints and keep the buses in a state of good repair.
CATA has never been a particularly well-funded transit organization. Over the years, we've always been stretched to try to meet the growing needs of a growing community. So, we do the very best job that we can to try to ensure that we use our limited resources wisely.
One of the ways that we have done that is with our tow truck. You know a transit system of our size probably only needs to tow a bus or other vehicle maybe once every month, once every two months. But when a bus needs to be towed, you really have to have a truck to do it. We could never justify spending a quarter million dollars or more on a brand new tow truck, but we were able to work a deal with our good friends at SEPTA in Philadelphia.
Of course, there with their enormous fleet, they're towing buses every day. And so, consequently, they wear out their tow trucks pretty quickly. This is the second time in the history of CATA that we have worked with SEPTA and purchased for a very small amount of money one of their surplus tow vehicles.
In this case, we got this for $1,000, and the guys on our maintenance staff went to work and took the basic chassis, outfitted it with a new compressor, put all kinds of additional equipment on the bed of the truck, and have made it into a very serviceable tow truck to meet the needs of our small fleet. It's just another way that we have been responsible economically to provide a high level of service at the lowest possible cost.
One of the things that makes CATA absolutely unique is that we have relationships with the owners and managers of 19 different student housing complexes around the community. It's a blessing and it's a curse. It's a blessing because by contracting with the apartment complexes, we, in essence, have made an arrangement where the individual rider's fare has already been prepaid, typically through their rent.
The curse part is that it creates incredible demands on CATA, because we end up having to serve a very large number of riders, typically who all want to travel at the same time. We find that typically college students, being college students, want to ride the last bus that will get them to campus in time for the start of the next class period.
The development that we're standing in now is called The Heights. It just popped up within the last six months. 639 beds fully occupied. You can imagine what this means at 8:30 on a Wednesday morning, when all of a sudden 150 students come streaming out to get on the bus to head to second period classes on the Penn State campus. It's a real challenge for us. This is a situation that, like I said, just appeared out of nowhere within the past year. And we have been called upon to service it.
So far, I think we're doing a pretty good job. It's not perfect, because there are times we just can't get everybody squeezed on the bus. But what we have here is replicated 18 more times around the community. It means we carry a lot of riders. Today with Penn State in session, we will carry at least 35,000 trips, and that's in a community of less than 100,000 people. That's really high transit intensity. But the price comes at the ability to squeeze everybody on, and that's a challenge.
CATA has been at the forefront in a number of areas. Our natural gas buses, our use of technology, the way we have deployed car pools and van pools to meet the needs of long distance commuters. Another way that we have been very much on the cutting edge is working with the development community, our local elected officials, planning commissions and so forth, to make sure that as new developments get designed and constructed, they're built in a way that public transportation can be successful in serving them.
And what we have right here is probably the best example that exists in our community. This is a development called The Colonnade. It was developed about 15 years ago, and at the time, we were successful thanks to the strong support of the township in working with the developer, and the future merchants to make sure that what we ended up with was a wonderful set of facilities to meet the needs of people who will be coming here on the bus.
So, what we ended up with is a roadway network which goes through the heart of the development and two sets of very nice bus shelters that are conveniently located to all of the stores that are in the Colonnade. And so, consequently, if you are coming here by bus-- and many people do, particularly students and others from the campus-- you're able to get to a central location. And this location also serves as kind of a transit center where multiple routes all converge.
So, what we've ended up with is a very nice physical facility centrally located, built in a way that is designed to support the access by large heavy vehicles in a way that allows transit to be an effective alternative to the private automobile.
We're now standing in front of another student housing complex called The Point. This complex has about 1,000 beds, and we have a contract with The Point so that we provide transportation for their residents, and they pay for it through their rent. As you can see by the group of people standing behind me, this is a pretty busy situation.
What we've got here is at least two dozen, maybe 30 riders all destined for the Penn State campus and downtown State College. It's now about 10 minutes before noon, and this is the kind of ridership we are experiencing. Imagine what it was like at 10 minutes before 9:00 this morning. If we have 30 people here now, we easily had 100, perhaps 150. And at that time, we have to run multiple buses. So, instead of just having one bus with the crush capacity of 70 or so, we would have two, three, four, maybe even five buses coming through this bus stop. And they will all be filled to capacity.
If you look down the street, you can see a second bus that is servicing the stop at the neighboring apartment complex. Again, this is a situation where one bus simply isn't sufficient. So, in order to get everybody on board, we're using two buses. The first bus apparently is full, and now, the overflow of the passengers will get on bus number two.
We replicate this all over State College. We have four different student housing corridors, all of which require multiple buses in order for us to serve the passenger demand. When we think about the value that we provided the community, probably the greatest single value is keeping all of the automobiles off the street that would be there if the buses weren't in operation.
Because the apartment complex that we're standing at now and all of the others along this corridor are apartment complexes where students typically have automobiles. And if they weren't riding the bus, they'd be driving. Because it's too far from where we're located here on [INAUDIBLE] Boulevard to the Penn State campus for anybody to really walk that distance. Bicycling maybe, but not walking. So, the choice is drive or ride the bus. And if we can put 5,000 people on the bus, that's probably 4,000 automobiles that are no longer clogging up North [INAUDIBLE] Street.
We're standing at the Pattee Transit Center, which is in the heart of the Penn State campus. This transit center was built about a half a dozen years ago in a partnership between CATA and Penn State. CATA was able to secure some federal funding to improve the bus stop, and Penn State was interested in an overall improvement to the surrounding campus aesthetics. As a result, we ended up with a very attractive bus shelter in a location that's central to just everything that's going on on campus.
One of the things that we were able to incorporate is real time transit information. Using the GPS capabilities that are on board the buses, we're able to calculate the expected arrival of each different bus. And as you can see, there are a great number of routes that come through this particular bus stop.
If a person is standing there waiting for the bus, they can look on this reader board and see when their bus is due to arrive. Of course, they can also look at the apps that we make available for smartphones, both Android and iPhones, or the text feature where you can text to CATA and get an immediate response that will tell when your bus is due to arrive at this particular stop.
As you can see, this is a very, very busy location. Right now it's a little bit after noon, and it's class change time at Penn State. As a result, we have very full buses in every direction. Whether it's a bus that is traveling back and forth across campus like this white loop bus across the street, or whether it's the bus that just departed here that's heading back out into the community, taking students and others back to their living quarters off campus.
We're standing between the Beaver Stadium and the Bryce Jordan Center. For many people, the parking lots to my left and my right are lots that are used for sports activities. But in addition to being used for sports events, they are also commuter parking for Penn State employees and Penn State students.
When people park out here by the Jordan Center and Beaver Stadium, they need transportation to get into the core campus. And over the years, CATA and Penn State Transportation Services have developed a very strong partnership. It goes back to 1999. And at that time, Penn State developed a new campus master plan. And one of the central points of that master plan was develop a pedestrian friendly core.
And the consultants recommended to Penn State that if they were going to be successful in having a pedestrian core, they needed to do whatever they could to encourage people to park their cars at the periphery, to get cars and parking out of the central part of campus.
And at that point, Penn State and CATA were able to negotiate an arrangement for fare-free campus service. Over the years, it's evolved into four different routes. It's the red link, the green link, the blue loop, and the white loop. And these four routes provide transportation from outlying parking into the center of campus. And every day during the school year, we will transport on those four routes in excess of 20,000 riders.
It's operated under a partnership. Penn State contributes, CATA contributes. And between the two of us, we're able to provide frequent fare-free service. And it makes it a viable alternative to everybody feeling like they have to park right within 100 yards of Old Main.
If you look to my left, you can see one of our route maps. And you can see that we have service that goes from the White Horse apartments on the extreme western end of campus, all the way across [INAUDIBLE] Road, which is the main east-west arterial. And from the Jordan Center and Beaver Stadium, service continues out to the Mount Nittany Medical Center and Penn State's Innovation Park.
At the same time, the loop routes-- blue loop and white loop-- connect this area with downtown State College. So, it is a very complete network of services that will enable anybody who is parking at this location to get virtually anywhere on campus, the hospital, Innovation Park, or even into downtown State College.
Now we're aboard a blue loop bus on the Penn State campus. This is one of four routes that circulates around the campus and provides free-fare transportation. And as you can see, it's a fairly busy bus. But we are squarely between Penn State class periods. So, what you're seeing here is really the extreme low end. If we had been on this bus 30 minutes earlier, you would not have been able to see from one end of the bus to the other because it would have been packed with standees from the yellow line in the front all the way to the rear bench seat in the back.
It's an incredibly valuable conveyance. And over the course of the day, in excess of 20,000 people will be transported around the Penn State campus.
At CATA, if our dispatch function is the heart and our maintenance function is the muscle, the real soul to the organization is our 150 plus employees. Joining me here on this bus is Ken Mortar. Ken is a bus driver, been with CATA for 14 years. And Ken is not only one of our more accomplished bus drivers, but he's also the president of our local of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
And that's something that's pretty significant. Because public transportation, almost without exception, is operated by represented employees. And I have managed transit systems in four different states around the country over a period of 37 years. And I've always believed that in our environment, labor and management are truly a partnership.
I know there are people who see labor as sometimes an adversary, and I have to admit there are times when we need to be on opposite sides of the table. But, in my view, we are all in this together. I can't do my job, we can't have really good transportation for the citizens of our community, without the great work of Ken and his colleagues.
And I think in the other direction, that Ken and the other 150 plus folks who work at CATA can't really have a good working environment if management isn't doing its job well. So, we're really into this together. And I really believe that. And I think as a result of Ken and the other people who have served in leadership capacities before Ken, and also with him today, we have enjoyed really good labor-management relationships.
It's not been perfect. But on balance, together we have been able to accomplish some really good things for the people who ride our buses, for the people who pay their taxes to support the services we provide, and for the people like Ken and myself, who are making a career in public transportation.
CATA has enjoyed an awful lot of success over the past 18 years that I have been here, and I've found myself in the very fortunate position of being able to stand on the shoulders of the folks who have gone before me. But when I think of the things that we have accomplished together, there are about four that really rise to the surface.
First of all, it's the service that we've been able to do with our various partners in the community. Whether it's the University, the apartment complexes, the development community, or whoever, those partnerships have been very, very successful.
The second area has been in the use of natural gas. We got in the program early. We were very fortunate that we jumped in with both feet, and we made it work for us. We stuck with it. And all of a sudden 15 years later, Marcellus Shale arrives on the scene, and it makes it look like we were absolutely clairvoyant. But it has been one of the very best programs that I've been affiliated with in my 37 year career.
A third area that I'm particularly proud of has been our ability to develop a set of programs for long distance commuters. We've always had a great program of service right in and around State College. But developing carpools, and van pools, and guaranteed ride home, and a whole set of services to help people who are commuting longer and longer distances. That has been, I think, a terrific thing that we have been able to do for all of central Pennsylvania. And specifically, people who are commuting into the greater State College area.
And lastly, I couldn't not mention technology. Because we have discovered that the deployment of technology on our buses has not only helped us be even more efficient than we would have been otherwise, but it has given us the ability to convey real time transit information to our riders and our prospective riders.
If those are the things that we have been able to accomplish over the last decade and a half, looking ahead, there will be many other things that we will be able to achieve. But fortunately or unfortunately, I'm not going to be here. Because in another 299 days, I'll be retiring. But I will be leaving CATA in really, really good hands when I hand the reins over to Louwana Oliva, our assistant general manager, who has been designated to be my successor come next June 30th.
LOUWANA OLIVA: Hi, I'm Louwana Oliva, and I'm the assistant general manager here at CATA. A little bit of what Hugh has been talking to you about has been our success in the last few years, and over his career. And typically what happens with success is also comes challenges.
As we move into the next era for CATA, we'll be looking at a number of challenges. One of the first things that is in process right now is actually putting together a strategic plan to look at where have we had success, where do we go from here, how do we manage the growth?
A good example of that is Hugh talked a little bit about our CATA Commute program, which is a van pool program. That program has doubled in size in just the last five years. So, even though that's a success, there's a challenge that goes along with how do you manage that kind of a growth? We've also been seeing growth in our line service as far as we've talked a little bit about the apartment complexes, and the growth in ridership that we're experiencing. So, the strategic plan is part of what we're looking for to sort of lay our path for the future.
Two of the other areas that are challenges that we need to look to the future for. They're a challenge, but they're also exciting because they're growth. The first one would be is that we've talked a little bit about the fact that we've outgrown our facility here. In fact, this facility was actually built for 40 buses. And with our contingency fleet, we're actually at 72 buses right now. So, we're bursting at the seams.
So, we've been in the process of designing a new building that allows for growth as far as storing our fleet, working on our fleet, maintaining our fleet. Some of the things that we're looking at the future, too, is to be able to add articulated buses to our fleet to help with some of the student corridors, where sometimes we're sending three and four buses in order to keep up with demand.
So, as we go forward with the design of the building, the other challenge that will go with that is while we have a commitment for funding, it's how does that funding come in and allow us to build that building as we go through design?
The other challenge that we will be looking at is our fleet. Just a couple of years ago when I came here to CATA, our average fleet age was 13. Which means that we had buses that went anywhere from, I think our youngest buses were a little less than 10 years old, to buses that are now pushing up against 20 years old.
So, the average life of a bus is expected to be 12 years. So, what we'd like to do is to get that average fleet age down to where we're not keeping buses quite so long. With an influx of some new buses recently, we've gotten it down to about 9. But still our fleet's way too old for the kind of service that we're putting out there. So, you want reliable buses that don't cost a lot to maintain.
So one of our big areas of concern that we're looking at is how to not only grow our fleet, because our ridership is growing and we need more buses, but then how do we also, on a regular basis, replace that fleet so that we aren't spending a lot of money to maintain older buses, or spending money to put new equipment on buses that really should be at retirement age?
HUGH MOSE: This has been a great opportunity for CATA and for me to share with our viewing audience a little bit about the Centre Area Transportation Authority and the services that we provide here in Centre County, Pennsylvania. As I said at the very beginning, there are really three things that we do.
We have our CATA bus service, which is what everybody knows us for. Those are the big orange and white buses that are just pervasive around State College. But we also have CATA Ride, which is our service for seniors and persons with mobility or cognitive impairments. And then third is our CATA Commute program of carpools and van pools.
We are really, really proud of the services we provide. We believe that we provide great value for the taxpayers that help fund us. We believe we provide great service to the people who ride our buses and vans, and we believe we provide a very good place of employment for the folks who are making their careers in public transportation here at CATA.
So again, thank you very much for the opportunity to share a little bit about CATA, and it's been great being with you.
Passenger Information Systems
One of the huge benefits spatial technology has brought to the transit industry is in the area of passenger information systems. Watch this 4-minute instructional video on using the real-time bus information which CATA makes available.
To provide you with the route and schedule information you need to use the CATA bus system, CATA makes this information available in several convenient ways beyond the static information provided in the ride guide and on the CATA bus website. Please view CATA's CATA route and schedule info, the ride guide, and CATA website for instructions on how to read CATA's static route and schedule information located in the ride guide and on the CATA website. CATA's real-time website and its new My Stop mobile apps for iPhone and Android devices provide yet another source of information - this being up-to-the minute schedules for all CATA bus routes. They also provide a trip planner and a way to view and sign up for email and text rider alerts from CATA based on the route you ride.
To download the My Stop mobile apps, search for this My Stop logo in the iTunes or Google Play Store. Once downloaded and opened, click on the CATA logo.
Let's say we want the N Route to go to the Northland Center on North Atherton Street. And we want to board the bus on Bigler Road heading outbound, or away, from downtown State College. When we click on the N Route, we can see where the bus is in real time. When you click on your stop, a box will open showing you when the bus is estimated to be arriving at your stop and whether it is currently on time or running a little behind schedule. Here, we can see the bus is on time and scheduled to arrive at the Northland Center at a scheduled time of 11:34 a.m.
Planning your trip with CATA's new trip planner is fast and easy. Simply click on trip planner, input your origin and destination, and your preferences, and hit submit. Options for your trip, as well as walking directions will be provided. Riders can register with My Stop and sign up to receive recurring alerts via email or text as they relate to real-time bus arrivals, rider alerts for a specific route or all routes, and more. The same alerts, although only for one-time, non-recurring, can be set up via the My Stop mobile apps as well. And finally, have instant access to CATA's rider alerts as they become available, by clicking on public service messages.
Additional options also exist for accessing real-time information. If you're standing at a bus stop featuring real-time information boards like this one at the library you can see the estimated arrival time for all buses arriving at that stop, and if you're standing in a specific stop, you can access next bus arrival times by texting cb (stop number) to 321-123 or by scanning the QR code at the stop. Should you ever have questions or like guidance on using CATA's real-time bus tracking tools and mobile apps, CATA's bus drivers and friendly office staff are always happy to help you.