Penn State Altoona administrators are restoring evening bus transportation to off-campus housing, at least for this year, as a result of student concerns.
The chancellor's council, lead by Chancellor Lori Bechtel-Wherry, began meeting with student affairs department administrators last spring about eliminating evening bus routes, but administrators did not notify students until the summer about the change.
And a promise of the campus' free bus transportation advertised by landlords already had drawn Penn State Altoona students to live in off-campus housing this year and enroll in night classes without hesitation.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Students board Amtran buses Tuesday at a bus stop near the Hawthorn Building at Penn State Altoona.
"We realize we need to give students more of a notice so that they have the opportunity to make plans," Penn State Altoona spokeswoman Shari Routch said after administrators decided Tuesday to reinstate evening Amtran service.
Starting Thursday, Amtran will resume the Blue and White loop services to Nittany Pointe and College Park apartments until 10 p.m. on weekdays.
"The start and end times will be the same as last year, but there will be a change in frequency based on ridership, and the university will notify students of that change by noon today after we have the details from Amtran."
But the possibility of that service ending next year is a concern for students with potential milelong hikes from Penn State Altoona's Ivyside Park to their Nittany Pointe and College Park apartments in the dark, through all kinds of weather and long, uphill stretches without sidewalks.
Sophomore Marissa Brown's decision to live at the Nittany Pointe Apartments this year was based on the availability of transportation to and from campus. She is happy the administration reinstated evening bus service this year but hopes transportation is not cut next year.
"I don't think it should be temporary. I don't think they should look at transportation as a means of cutting costs," Brown said.
"Building repairs and other expenses," Routch said, were deferred to next fiscal year so that the campus can afford to reinstate evening bus services. Amtran bus service reductions were made to save $32,000, Routch said. "We want students to know we are not turning a deaf ear to their concerns."
But Routch said continuing to provide free evening bus transportation on the Blue and White bus loops to off-campus housing is not financially sustainable in the long term, and administrators are "looking at options for next year."
Penn State Altoona pays Amtran so its students can ride 11 bus routes without charge, including the two Blue and White loops.
Eliminating the evening Blue and White loop service was the least damaging transportation cut the campus could make, said Amtran General Manager Eric Wolf.
"Ridership was not great on those loops after 5 p.m." Wolf said, but he did not have figures readily available. "It was significantly less after 5," he said.
Penn State originally reduced Amtran services because Wolf ended a discount for the campus's contract this year.
"This 2012-13 academic school year we quoted Penn State Altoona $350,000 for all routes. The previous year, when Gov. [Tom] Corbett cut their state funding, I gave them a discount of $296,000."
This year's state budget held Penn State's funding at 2011-12 levels.
"But safety is our No. 1 priority," Routch said.
Falling victim to a crime as she walked home alone in the dark or falling on ice while lugging groceries for more than a mile to her apartment from campus was a concern for Brown, who gained 154 signatures in the past two days on a petition to reinstate the routes.
Student Government Association President Kyle Steenland signed Brown's petition and said he discussed the transportation issue with campus student affairs administrators on Tuesday.
"I understand making cuts, but transportation is a necessity," Steenland said.
Some evening transportation reductions for this year remain in effect. Frequency of three evening buses from Penn State Altoona's Ivyside Park to downtown Altoona campus have been reduced from every 20 minutes to every hour.
Charging bus fare to students who board buses or partnering with landlords of off-campus apartments to maintain free transportation for students could be options the administration may explore, Routch said.
Mirror Staff Writer Russ O'Reilly is at 946-7435.