Public bus system moves forward

Local partners seek PennDOT demonstration grant

LOCK HAVEN — The initiative to determine if a public bus system can fit the dynamics of rural Clinton County took a step forward Thursday.

The county commissioners and their partners are looking into the possibility of applying for a three-year demonstration grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Some months ago, commissioners set up a Public Transit Community Advisory Committee, which has been meeting to explore the possibility of bringing busing service to the county.

Since then, the committee has been quietly meeting behind closed doors to explore the merits of bus service for the county, including connections from Jersey Shore and Williamsport, according to Commissioners Jeff Snyder, Paul Conklin and Pete Smeltz.

County Grants Coordinator Katie DeSilva, in updating the commissioners Thursday, said the system may, in the future, consider connections from Clinton County to State College, or shuttle service to the Renovo area.

The committee has apparently engaged the services of Michael Baker International of Pittsburgh, transportation consultants, to investigate the possibilities.

The Baker representatives — Andy Batson and A.J. Knee — recently made a presentation to the committee, offering details from the as-yet unfinished feasibility study, which is a requirement for the PennDOT demonstration grant application.

Baker’s finished feasibility study will include:

r A five-year budget projection.

r A three-year analysis of performance criteria.

r Estimates of the operational cost per passenger.

r A narrative rationale for the services.

The committee includes representatives of Lock Haven City, city police, Lock Haven University, Downtown Lock Haven, the Clinton County Economic Partnership, Pine Creek Township Police, First Quality Tissue, Clinton County Housing Authority, and the local office of the Department of Public Welfare. The Lock Haven Hospital has also expressed interest.

Additional municipalities have also been invited to join in.

Williamsport-based River Valley Transit would be the applicant for the PennDOT grant, which would be an 85-15 percent, invoice-based split on overall costs between the local partners and PennDOT.

DeSilva said this would be the first local demonstration grant request to come to PennDOT since Act 89 was passed in 2013.

The Multimodal Fund was created by Act 89, enacted in November 2013, was a far-reaching transportation funding plan designed to addresses road and bridge projects. Also through the fund, transit, aviation, rail freight and pedestrian and bicycle modes obtained dedicated sources of funds for the first time, putting the modes on a firmer footing for future initiatives.

The hope is that the rarity of a local grant request will spark PennDOT’s interest toward a trial period of bus service in 2017.

Believed to be key factors in the success of any local transit program success, are population estimates supporting the likelihood of people using public transit, DeSilva said. She also said the presence of a local four-year university and active, stable industries like First Quality could bolster arguments for the need for such a system.

Under the current plans, there would actually be two local services:

r A “Clinton County connector” with a travel time of 30 or 60 minutes, with the main trunk running from Jersey Shore through Lock Haven to the university with branches serving Hogan Boulevard, Lock Haven Hospital and First Quality. The connector would hook up at Jersey Shore to all River Valley Transit’s Williamsport routes and run within the county all day, Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

r A “Clinton County Express” would be peak-only, Williamsport to Lock Haven at 5:45 a.m., 7:45 a.m. and 5:45 p.m.; and Lock Haven to Williamsport, 7 a.m., 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The feasibility study by Baker is expected to be submitted to PennDOT by the end of May.

DeSilva said the pending state budget is a concern, as transit grants aren’t part of the general fund, but rather the Public Transportation Trust Fund.

Conklin noted that under the current plans, travel would be free for seniors and university students.

He also talked about the bus services as traveling, temporary shelters during emergencies, or safe refuge during heat waves.

Snyder noted that there were some perceived “negatives” including “transportable crime,” but added that local law enforcement would maintain statistics during the trial period, and share any spikes with the public on a regular basis.

Conklin noted that since the buses are video-monitored inside and outside, the likelihood of crime occurring on board or in close proximity to the service was remote.