Amtran to SC: What’s changed?

Whether Amtran can provide cost-effective bus service to Tyrone and/or State College in the future isn’t only going to necessitate a close examination of the current overall need and level of potential ridership.

Also necessary will be a detailed look at past service failures involving the two communities and all that might have contributed to them.

For example, was one big cause of the past failures inadequate advertising and promotion of the services? Were potential riders reminded frequently of the advantages of choosing bus transportation over their personal vehicles?

Was there effort toward trying to tailor the bus service schedules to most potential riders’ needs?

At a time when most people consider it less of a hassle to simply drive their vehicle to wherever they are going, ingenuity, foresight and a friendly aggressiveness on the part of bus services is more essential than ever.

The news that Amtran and Tyrone officials have been discussing the possibility of a resumption of service between the two communities surfaced during a Tyrone Borough Council meeting on April 9.

Borough Manager Ardean Latchford was quoted in an April 11 Mirror article as saying “I think there is a need there,” and Amtran General Manager Eric Wolf was quoted in that same article, acknowledging that Amtran and borough officials were “having a conversation.”

But Wolf went on to say that “in no way are we imminently starting service,” even though Amtran service currently extends to Pinecroft, which is 10 miles south of Tyrone.

Wolf said talks with Tyrone officials aren’t far enough along to determine whether service between the city and borough would require a grant.

Perhaps a grant would have to figure into any workable plan for the State College extension.

Meanwhile, service to State College presumably would require coordination with the Centre Area Transportation Authority, which already operates what’s known as CATA Commute.

Regarding the idea of Amtran reviving Altoona-to-State College service, which in the past was provided by Fullington Trailways, Jacqueline Sheader, a CATA spokeswoman, has said CATA would be open to discussion.

“We’re always open to discussing better ways to serve the citizens,” she said.

But the past record of failure regarding both Tyrone and State College cannot be ignored, as transit officials contemplate the future.

A Mirror article published in November 2005 reported that, through June of that year, the service averaged fewer than one ride per hour, and that Amtran was recovering only 3.5 percent of its costs through fares — certainly not a sustainable situation.

The service, which was provided for a year and a half, ended in the spring of 2006.

Fullington provided service between Altoona and State College for eight months in 2010, but, like with Amtran’s former service to Tyrone, there weren’t enough riders to justify continuation of the service.

So, the big question now is whether need has changed enough in recent years to justify revival of these proposed bus-service routes. This is the right time for those who would use the two transit opportunities to begin making that known to Amtran, realizing, of course, that re-implementation of those services could not happen overnight.

It’s laudable that the proposals are being discussed, although it is too soon to predict whether the services have a real chance of materializing.