By DYLAN MILLER
Daily News Staff Writer
The public transit plan (PTP) is now open for public input and will remain open for 30 days. The plan will seek improvement of public transportation in Bedford, Somerset, Fulton and Huntingdon counties.
In general, there is a wealth of people in the community who have travel restrictions and lack the means of getting to work or anywhere else they need to go. Public transit is very important, but there are challenges associated with a plan such as this.
“Public transit can be very difficult in a rural area, especially Huntingdon County, which is 850 square miles with a relatively low and widespread population,” said Amy Wise, executive director of Huntingdon County Business and Industry (HCBI). “It’s a catch 22 in this situation, because you need a large quantity of people to justify public transit, but, in the areas where you especially need it, there isn’t that large quantity of people.”
This plan will examine plans enacted in other counties that have had the same issue in order to address this problem.
“It (the PTP) will examine practices in other counties, such as existing programs that can be adopted and expanded into other counties. We don’t often look at the ongoing efforts of other counties, when, in fact, there may be a great opportunity to share resources and ideas and implement them in our own county rather than reinventing the wheel,” said Wise.
Another issue to address with the PTP is the need to implement day cares into the transit routes. Many residents who need to get to work also need to drop off their children at day care beforehand, which can be very difficult for those without transportation, Wise explained.
There are a number of aspects of PTP that may be utilized once the plan is enacted.
“Another thing that we looked at is that Huntingdon County is the only one out of the other three counties that has Amtrak as a transportation option, so we’d like to implement public transit in other counties that can get people from those counties to the train station in time,” said Wise.
Other programs that may be implemented include a revision of the CART program and the CATACOMMUTE program.
The Rideshare program as part of CATACOMMUTE uses online registrations to match individuals from the surrounding communities who share the same commute path based on criteria such as home location, work schedule, employer destination and smoking preference. Once matched, an applicant reviews a list of other commuters from their area and can create or join a carpool or vanpool. This program has proved to be beneficial in the surrounding areas.
“There are members of the RideShare program who would not be able to continue their education or land that dream job if a transportation option were not available to them,” said Terri Quici, commuter services manager. “Some cannot afford a vehicle, some are not able to drive because of health issues or because their license has been suspended. Some have a fear of driving in bad weather and some rideshare because they feel it is the right thing to do. Others enjoy the networking opportunities.”
The funding for these programs comes from the highway budget, or act 89 funds. Act 89 was, in part, created by an advisory board under Gov. Tom Corbett to help find solutions to the former budget crisis.
“Before, the funding barely existed for maintenance let alone add on projects. Prior to Act 89, the funds had been stagnant since 1997, so while costs crept up, funding didn’t. What this bill did is it raised the rates and put in an inflation clause so that it would raise gradually over time,” said Wise.
They knew that Act 89 would be a compromise and still wouldn’t be enough funding to fix all infrastructure issues, Wise explained. Further difficulties involve a decrease in gas tax income as cars become more efficient and less people drive. Another involves a raise in state police pension and the addition of employees. This results in a greater amount of funding needed to keep them running, which is pulled from Act 89 funds.
“The reason for this is that the state police were viewed as being primarily traffic control officers, so a portion of their budget comes out of highway funds. They are also funded by the turnpike commission,” said Sen. John H. Eichelberger. “We have looked at other ways to fund the state police in full or in part, and have not been able to find any easy ways to do this. The planning takes years on these kinds of problems. The situation in regards to budgeting has been costlier lately.”
More information on this plan, including short-, midand long-term goals, can be found on the survey’s website www.sapdc.org. Those who were not able to offer comments for the initial survey period are welcomed to do so in the 30-day comment period which began May 13.