‘You have to do some studying’

Amtran tweaks routes

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Crystal Walton of Altoona rides an Amtran bus in Altoona on Friday afternoon. Walton helps Hope Center clients find the best and most economical way to use the bus system to get to their appointments, shop or go pretty much anywhere else they want to go.

Crystal Walton of Altoona doesn’t have a car, so she rides the bus and helps others do likewise.

Walton has mastered the intricacies of traveling multiple routes to get where she needs to go in the most efficient and least costly manner and at the most convenient times, and she shares that knowledge with fellow Hope Center clients, many of whom, like her, have social anxieties that can make it hard to use the bus.

Walton was at an Amtran hearing Wednesday on bus route revisions, which the board afterward ratified.

Outlined by Josh Baker, director of staff and customer services, the revisions were numerous, involving three routes.

But Walton had no trouble following them, she said.

She’s ridden every one of the authority’s routes, except the Nittany Pointe, using them to shop, go to medical appointments and pretty much wherever else she needs or wants to go.

“I understand the ins and outs,” she said.

She’s a special fan of the all-day pass, which for $3 entitles one to ride from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m.

A person can go more places on those passes than on $3 in gas, Walton said.

And riders can stay literally cool all day during the summer, while seeing the sights.

People can also ride the entirety of three routes in an endless loop — Juniata to Plank Road to East End to Juniata — if they like.

But getting where you want to go around Altoona on a bus with a modicum of efficiency requires thought and planning.

“You have to do some studying,” Walton said.

When she’s working with Hope Center clients nervous about riding, she needs to know where they want to go, when they want to get there, how long they plan to stay, what routes can take them there, where they need to go to catch the bus, where they may need to transfer, how the transfer buses synchronize, when the riders need to board a bus for the trip home and how the transfers synchronize on the return trip.

She lays it all out on a sheet for them.

Often, then, she’ll ride the routes with them, to show how it’s done.

And if they remain unsure, she’ll custom-bundle several timetable pamphlets together, one for each route, in order, so if the client loses track, he or she can reorient.

“They can keep themselves from getting stranded,” Walton said.

The clients can also call the Amtran office for help, she said.

And when all else fails, they can ask the driver.

“(The driver) is your friend,” Walton tells them.

The changes approved after Wednesday’s hearing should help the Hope Center clients, especially as those changes include the startup of service to the Blair County Convention Center, where there is a National Alliance on Mental Illness conference coming up, along with periodic special events that she and her friends would like to attend, Walton said.

With those route revisions, Amtran will also begin service to the Logan Medical Center and will resume service after several years to Park Avenue in Lakemont, where Peoples Natural Gas Field, Lakemont Park and Galactic Ice are located.

One key to the revisions is the breaking off of the northerly section of the Hollidaysburg route into a new Lakemont route — a change that will turn a two-hour route into a pair of routes lasting one hour.

The Lakemont route will take over some stops from the Pleasant Valley route, giving Pleasant Valley the slack needed to improve its poor on-time performance, which is caused by a multitude of traffic lights and frequent tie-ups.

Walton’s mastery of Amtran’s routes gives her confidence, especially among her friends at the Hope Center.

“They know me as someone who knows how to get around,” Walton said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.