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Eat. Play. Breathe. Rethinking Public Transit Space for Better Health

Chief of Staff
Central Pennsylvania Transportation Authority
York, PA

The Central Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, otherwise known as rabbittransit, has three core values: safety, service, stewardship.

The first two are a natural fit for an organization that provides transportation to thousands of people each day throughout a 10-county region. How to define the third value, stewardship, most often relates to being entrusted with funding that comes largely from taxpayers’ pockets. It’s about using those dollars wisely in the procurement of goods and services that support the operation.

But what if it was more? What if being a good steward also meant leveraging public assets for public good? Let’s consider the topic of public health.

A few years ago, rabbittransit was asked to serve on the advisory council of an initiative known as Eat Play Breathe York. This was a community-based movement that sought to engage community members to spark change: specifically, change that improves access to healthy foods, increases physical activity and decreases exposure to tobacco products. What began several years ago has very recently started to bear fruit, in a big way.


In October 2017, rabbittransit began a partnership with York Fresh Food Farms, the city of York’s first urban farm, whose mission is to reduce hunger and help provide access to nutritious food choices. As part of this collaboration, the agency set up fresh produce “pop-up” markets at our downtown Transfer Center in York each Friday. As riders alighted from buses or waited for connections, they were greeted with bright tomatoes, purple and white eggplants, okra, green beans, dark kale and all sorts of organic crops.
rabbittransit partners with York Fresh Food Farms to host a fresh produce “pop-up” market at its downtown Transfer Center in York, PA.

Overcoming food deserts is critical to the long-term well-being of a community; these pop-ups hosted on a public transit property gave residents direct access.

rabbittransit was also able to offer York Fresh Food Farms a locally funded retired vehicle past its useful life to repurpose and operate as a mobile market. The farm acquired the bus from us at a fraction of the cost of a new vehicle. The vision for the mobile market was to drive into underserved neighborhoods, not only to sell vegetables but to teach residents the benefits of healthy eating.

This year, the mobile market is thriving as it tours throughout the community on a regular schedule, stopping every Friday at the Transfer Center. This location in particular has become the second main generator of sales for the market, which has also added the ability to accept SNAP and EBT benefits in addition to vouchers for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.

Other efforts to advance food access included the launch of a second weekly shuttle sponsored by Giant Food Stores LLC, connecting residents, at no charge, to two local Giant locations.

Additionally, we recently completed a campaign in which our public transit schedule maps overlay food icons on the route to identify grocery or market locations for riders. The majority of these locations include a “one-seat” ride, eliminating the need to transfer to multiple lines to reach the destination.

Serving as an advisory council leader on Eat Play Breathe York and meeting on a fairly regular basis afforded us the opportunity of keeping the entity’s priorities top of mind. Innovation is part of our organizational culture, and what started as a single project has developed into a mindset of advancing community impact across multiple areas.


A bus shelter installed at a rabbittransit bus stop in the downtown area of York, PA, encourages play during children’s travel routines.
“There is a play deficit in America,” according to KaBOOM! (a national nonprofit dedicated to bringing balanced and active play into the daily lives of all children, particularly those growing up in poverty in the U.S.). The organization highlights the fact that only one in four kids in the U.S. is getting the recommended daily amount of physical activity.

Eat Play Breathe York entered KaBOOM!’s Play Everywhere Challenge, a contest to design places for play in unexpected but everyday, accessible spaces. Out of the more than 1,000 applications received, Eat Play Breathe York received a $45,000 grant that included partnering with rabbittransit to create a playful bus shelter.

After several attempts to identify a suitable location, the shelter was installed in the city outside a traditional farmer’s market. One challenge included securing permissions from the land owner and identifying adequate space for the footprint to adhere to ADA regulations. The bright shelter space houses colorful elements that bring play to children who might not otherwise have time or access during their daily routine.

rabbittransit and its partners unveiled a new bike repair station and bike racks sponsored by AARP at its downtown Transfer Center in York, PA. Pictured left to right: Craig Walt, York City Bureau of Health; Debbie Bailey, Downtown Inc.; C. Kim Bracey, previous mayor of York; Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP PA state director, project sponsor; Judy Ritter-Dickson, York City Council; and Richard Farr, rabbittransit executive director.

As children play less, their obesity rates and behavioral and cognitive disorders increase; opportunities for play are critical to the wellbeing of both our children and our communities.

Most recently, rabbittransit, working with its partners, has identified an opportunity for play outside a senior housing complex. The location is slated to have playful panels installed near the existing bus shelter. While families with children journey to this bus stop, there is also an opportunity for cognitive play for local seniors as two of the panels will include Match Four and Tic Tac Toe.

Other efforts to enhance physical activity included the city of York collaborating with AARP to secure a sponsorship for a bike repair station at our Transfer Center. rabbittransit granted space for the repair station, which is free and accessible to the public.

rabbittransit also serves on a transportation task force with the York City Bureau of Health. The AARP public bike repair station is part of a larger approach to help communities become more walkable and bikeable, to promote healthy lifestyles and improve multimodal transportation connectivity. Each vehicle is equipped with a bike rack, and more than 1,000 riders board rabbittransit buses with bikes each month.

Every year, on the third Thursday of November, smokers across the nation take part in an event known as The Great American Smokeout to go tobacco-free for the day. Last year, rabbittransit partnered with WellSpan Health to launch the campaign, “Four for Your Fare.” The initiative permits fixed-route bus riders to offer four unused cigarettes in exchange for their bus fare on this day.

Plastic collection containers were assigned at the beginning of every driver’s shift, complete with the campaign logo. By the end of the day, 17 drivers had filled part of their containers with cigarettes collected from passengers. Given the creative aspect to the story, it received coverage from outlets including two major news stations. As healthcare organizations represent many of rabbittransit’s main partners, the desire to collaborate on this campaign was a natural extension of that relationship.
rabbittransit launched “Four for Your Fare” during The Great American Smokeout, through which fixed-route riders could offer four cigarettes in exchange for their bus fare.

Last year and again in October, the American Lung Association asked ­rabbittransit to host a food truck in the parking lot at its administrative offices in York, with the intent to donate 15 percent of the truck’s proceeds to the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania. Association representatives were on site to offer information about tobacco cessation programs and “Saved By The Scan,” a first-of-its-kind initiative that aims to raise awareness of the benefits of the early detection of lung cancer through screening. ­rabbittransit employees, employees from surrounding businesses and members of the ­public were invited to attend.

While these projects are varied, the common thread that weaves them together is the element of collaboration. Coordinating schedules and details between multiple partners is at times a daunting challenge; however, persistence is critical for community impact.

At rabbittransit, we understand that public transportation is a social determinant of health, and how we provide access is extraordinarily important. By examining the available space around us and using it to reduce access time to basic needs can greatly influence how we live our lives. If we can buy fruit and vegetables in the path of where we work and live, if we can reimagine our infrastructure to integrate playful elements into the path of public transportation, public transit can generate even more positive impacts on health outcomes and further enhance the conversation of public health.

Readers wishing to learn more about rabbittransit’s community engagement efforts should contact Jenna A. Reedy.
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