November 23, 2009
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CATACOMMUTE Enhances Mobility Management in Central Pennsylvania
BY JACQUELINE K. SHEADER, MBA, Marketing Manager, Centre Area Transportation Authority, State College, PA
As if to emphasize the fact that the Centre Area Transportation Authority (CATA) in State College, PA, has moved fromoffering only traditional fixed route and paratransit service into the realm of mobility management, the authority has announced that the expansion of its CATACOMMUTE program is one of its biggest successes over the past year.
This program encompasses a family of commuter services including a ride-matching program, a vanpool program, a Guaranteed Ride Home service, and other services designed to provide commuters with easy and economical ways to get to and from work via alternatives to the single-occupancy vehicle.
CATA is no stranger to the promotion of commuter alternatives: its initial RideShare program, which consisted of ride-matching and Guaranteed Ride Home services, originated in 1999. However, the program didn’t take off in a major way until late 2007, when CATA went into the “vanpool business” by taking over Penn State’s six-vehicle employee vanpool program and broadening it to serve the general public.
Since then, the number of participants in CATA’s ride-matching database has increased to 1,172, more than double the 572 registered at the beginning of 2008. Today, more than 260 active carpool participants are registered with the system and 17 active vanpools—accounting for nearly 225 daily riders—travel more than 30 miles on average into the State College area from 11 counties throughout central Pennsylvania.
The authority began its long-distance commuter services in response to a need for alternatives to solo commuting. In the State College region, housing close to the Penn State campus is very expensive relative to more outlying areas, which means that many lower-income workers must travel long distances to work. Because CATA’s funding structure limits its ability to run buses beyond the boundaries of its five member municipalities, the provision of ride-matching services was seen as a way of meeting this need to at least a small degree.
The new vanpool initiative was made possible by funding from the federal Congestion Management/Air Quality program, for which the State College area became eligible in 2007. The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization allocated funds to the new program—in response to a request by CATA—as a small step towards reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. Through a strong partnership with Penn State, vans were acquired to get the program off the ground.
One of CATA’s most social vanpool groups—dubbed “Gary and the Vanettes”—makes a daily round trip of about 50 miles from the Lamar/Snydertown area of central Pennsylvania into State College.