- By Dan Veaner
Lansing riders were at the Town Hall Wednesday to share their ideas about bus service in Lansing. Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, Inc. (TCAT) representatives held the second of two meetings to talk about possible route changes and a potential addition of service to the Town in the middle of the day.
"This has been on my to-do list for a while as we've seen development occurring in Lansing," says TCAT Service Development Manager Matt Yarrow. "I've been talking with other staffers about it for a while. We haven't been getting a ton of service requests, but we're starting to get more of them. The Village Solars is really a large project that is pulling a lot of weight here. We are experiencing some development in Lansing. With that comes the opportunity to see if service could be designed that would be utilized in the middle of the day. It doesn't have to run in the same alignment as the current routes. We're open to trying to figure out what would be most appreciated and most used. We understand a lot of those folks are trying to get to Cornell and aren't happy with what's here now."
"Transit and density of development go together well," yarrow says. "There is this kind of equation bout where transit works. We are seeing that there is some potential here now that wasn't before. The other thing is that TCAT has been thorough an extended period where the service has been fairly stagnant. We haven't looked to add new routes or add a whole bunch of service. At one point it was not enough money. At another point it was not enough buses. At another point it was not enough drivers... it seems like there's always something conspiring to make it hard to add service. We're getting to the point where I think we can start to look down these lines. Nothing dramatic, but slowly look at what can improve service for the community. That's what we're trying to do here."
The purpose of riding a bus is different in the middle of the day than at peak commuter times. Current routes facilitate getting to and from work at the beginning and end of the day. Service between those times would most likely be attractive to shoppers and people with doctor appointments and other such destinations.
"We're trying to evaluate what this mid-day service could be, who do we think might ride it, what time of day to run it," Yarrow says. "It may be that we start out with something that's fairly limited and see what kind of suggestions we get. A lot of the development that's proposed isn't actually built yet so we feel like this may be something that can be built as years go by. We can continue to add to it in the future."
Middle of the day service would also help TCAT drivers who currently have a rather large gap in their work day between the end of the morning run between 7:30 and 9am, and the beginning of the evening run between 3:30 and 4:30pm depending on the route.
"It really helps us create better work for our drivers if there's something for them to do in the middle of the day. Imagine somebody reports at 6am. They run a bus around for about three hours. they come back and sit around for five, six hours in the middle of the day and then they do the same thing in the PM. That is a really tough thing to handle."
Current routes go from downtown Ithaca and Cornell University to the North Lansing and Lansingville fire stations in the morning and evenings, primarily to transport Cornell employees to and from work. It hasn't been decided yet, but TCAT is considering truncating the routes that go to the Lansingville and North Lansing fire stations in favor of a closer end-point to those routes at, for example, the Town Hall. Stops along the way may also change, as, for example, those riders don't necessarily need to stop near Ithaca High School. Evening trips that continue to go to the far north park-and-ride stops may be shifted to later in the schedule to accommodate peak ridership elsewhere in the system.
Attendees at the first of the two meetings were concerned about trips that get them to campus for their work shifts. In order to serve them, the first trip might go to the fire stations, but the second one only as far as the Town Hall on Route 36 and to the corner of Warren and Farrell Roads on Route 37. The trips that continue to go to the fire stations may be later than currently scheduled to provide some system-wide relief for TCAT during the high peak ridership times. Using the Ithaca Mall as a hub where riders could travel from the north of the Town and then catch a bus to somewhere else was also discussed.
With hundreds of units of development sprouting up in the Town and Village of Lansing, many developers are requesting bus stops in their developments. Yarrow says that may not be practical, but he is looking at each request on a case by case basis. Matching bus resources to Lansing's three main corridors on East Shore Drive Triphammer, and Warren Roads is tricky.
"Because we have these three main corridors, it's not clear to me what the best option is if a development is substantially off one of them," he says. "If you run a loop you can cover two of them. If you are going to run out and back you can cover one of them. With one route it's really hard to serve all three. And loop routes have their drawbacks. A lot of the discussion tonight has been about people who are riding from those far-north park-and-rides. Their objective is to get to work quickly. They're not going to welcome going into each development and coming back out. So to the extent possible you can gather people on your corridor, the more effective that service is and the quicker it is."
Another piece of the puzzle is to make the routes economically feasible. Lansing ridership is not enough to fill a bus. Spring ridership data shows a high average of riders at 32.6 on the 7:10 Route 36 bus, but an average of fewer than three riders get on the bus at Lansingville fire station, the Town Hall or Ludlowville. The 7:04 bus that goes to the North Lansing fire station has an average of close to 16 riders getting on at Warren/Farrell Roads, and 2.3 at the fire station. The most traveled trip on Route 37 has far fewer Lansing riders.
Using smaller vehicles to service the Lansing Routes may eventually make sense, but right now TCAT only has two smaller vehicles that are already scheduled on other routes. Yarrow says that a partnership with Gadabout may be a solution in the future, but it isn't financially feasible unless it is subsidized.
There is limited time to collate rider comments and make changes in time to issue the fall service schedule in August, but Yarrow says people are welcome to contact him at TCAT with more comments.
"There are operational reasons to look at this," Yarrow says. "There are staffing reasons to look at this. And, obviously we're making an effort to try to bring in input from the community and see what we can build. these are the first steps. We're going to go back to the office and discuss what we're ready to put on our schedules for fall."