Amtran eyes shared-ride service to State College

Low ridership has derailed past attempts

At the suggestion of Amtran board member Bruce Kelley, Amtran resolved Wednesday to ask the Centre Area Tran­sportation Authority whether it’s interested in a mutual effort to enhance commuting opportunities between Altoona and State College.

CATA already operates CATA Commute, which includes a van pool program in which larger groups of riders split the cost of operating a CATA van and a ride share program that helps match individuals with similar commuting profiles.

“We’re certainly open to discussion,” said CATA spokeswoman Jacqueline Sheader. “We’re always open to discussing better ways to serve the citizens.”

It’s not certain what form potential changes could take, said Amtran General Manager Eric Wolf.

Kelley’s idea flowed out of recent news that Amtran has been discussing the possibility of service to Tyrone — which is about halfway between Altoona and State College — at the request of Tyrone officials.

Commuter trips between both Altoona and State College and Altoona and Tyrone have been tried before.

Using a PennDOT subsidy, Fullington Trailways provided service between Altoona and State College for eight months in 2010, but there weren’t enough riders to continue.

Using a PennDOT grant, and Blair Senior Services as subcontractor, Amtran provided rides between Altoona and Tyrone for a year and a half, ending in 2006, because there weren’t enough riders to continue.

It’s been long enough since the experiment by Fullington — to which Amtran deferred, in order not to infringe on free enterprise — to look into the feasibility of service to State College again, Wolf said.

Kelley said he knows half a dozen people who commute to State College.

Board member Tony Roscia said his daughter commutes there.

“Maybe there are things we can do that we haven’t thought about,” Roscia said.

Maybe there are tactics CATA wants to try but can’t manage on its own, Kelley said.

One incentive for using public transit to State College is the difficulty of parking there, Kelley said.

CATA operates 36 van pools comprising 491 commuters, Sheader said.

The vans carry between seven and 15 riders each, although the driver rides free in exchange for coordination efforts and collecting the fares.

There are van pool groups that originate from Altoona, Hollidaysburg, Tyrone, Cresson, Loretto and Huntingdon — as well as locations outside the Mirror coverage area, according to information provided by Sheader.

CATA provides the van, insurance, maintenance and a fuel card that the driver uses. The commitment of riders is month-to-month.

There are 179 active ride share pools, with 2,900 individuals signed into the program database, Sheader said.

CATA provides emergency rides home for users of both services to ease concerns about being stranded, according to CATA.

The effort to work on a State College service could contribute to a planned update to Amtran’s Transit Development Plan, Wolf said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.