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CAT changing routes in concert with Amazon

By Zack Hoopes of the Sentinel/Cumberland Valley Business Journal. This article was published on April 8, 2016.

Capital Area Transit will be re-vamping its bus routes next month in a pitch to eliminate unproductive stops and add service to Carlisle’s warehouse corridor along Allen Road.

CAT developed the changes in conjunction with the Cumberland Area Economic Development Corporation and Amazon, which provided location data on 9,000 employees to help design bus routes that could pick up the largest amount of warehouse workers.

“We wanted to use [Amazon] as a pilot of what we can do with the routes, to tweak them and get to some of these pockets of the population that want to work but can’t get there,” said Laura Potthoff, CAEDC Business Retention and Expansion Manager, during a meeting with community groups on Friday afternoon.

The study particularly targeted the roughly 5,000 seasonal employees that Amazon employees from roughly September to December, according to Anthony Chen, Amazon’s Account Director for Staff Management.

“One of the main barriers we were finding was transit for these employees,” Chen said. “We actually ended up running our own buses from Harrisburg into Carlisle.”

According to Amazon’s findings, a significant amount of their seasonal workforce comes from pockets of under-served populations in the northern region of the West Shore, in the Enola area.

CAT already has a bus line that runs through this area and into Carlisle. But as part of several route changes through its service territory, starting May 23, CAT will also be introducing a new loop going out to Allen Road, particularly the Amazon, Ames, and Ross distribution centers. This loop will also connect with the Enola route as well as the Carlisle Circulator route.

Some services that have displayed little to no ridership will also be cut, particularly around Carlisle’s military facilities, with buses now slated to head straight down Trindle Road instead of taking detours.

Because routes are being cut as they are added, the net increase in mileage is expected to be minimal, according to CAT Assistant General Manager Tom Young.

The current schedule of changes could be further expanded to incorporate more high-demand businesses and workforce locations, if it proves popular enough. More paying riders in the same amount of mileage would, ultimately help CAT’s bottom line financially.

“Money is always tight,” noted Cumberland County Chief Clerk Larry Thomas. “If we are to invest more money if this pilot is conclusive, we want to services to be used … this is intended to be as close to cost-neutral as possible.”

Cumberland County, along with several other government entities, contributes to CAT. Like most public transit authorities, it is not self-sustaining; the bus system operated at a $14.9 million loss in 2015, according to CAT’s most recent financials, and relies heavily on state grant funding.

The farebox recovery ratio, meaning the amount of operating costs recouped by ticket prices, averages around 18 percent, Young said.

This rate of return will naturally increase with denser ridership, something Young hopes to see from the Allen Road loop brining warehouse employees to other locations around Carlisle. The Carlisle Circulator route currently averages around 3,500 riders per month, which Young hopes to double once the new routes have gained popularity.

“We wanted to show something that was sustainable and profitable and will improve the area, not just Amazon,” Chen said.

For full details of all route changes, go to http://www.cattransit.com.

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