Service changes are in store for the coming year, according to the CATABUS 2012-2013 draft budget that was sent to the State College Borough Council and surrounding municipalities Thursday.
Though PennDOT expects CATA’s Act 44 allocation for 2012-2013 to be higher than 2011-2012, the draft budget states that there is no guarantee this will be the case.
And without increased federal funding, an increased allocation would not be enough to continue services at the current rate, according to the draft budget.
Due to operating cost increases, CATA Service Development Manager Eric Bernier said community services would be cut between 1 and 2 percent in order to maintain roughly the same budget.
However, some changes will be adjustments, rather than solely service cuts, to improve the reach and efficiency of the community services, Bernier said.
Changes will take effect on August 25, the Saturday before the fall 2012 semester begins.
Though the 28 new CATA buses seem to send mixed messages when compared to the 2 percent service cut, Bernier explained that they are funded through different means.
In order to fund new buses to replace 16 buses from 1995 and 10 buses from 1996 out of 62 buses total, CATA applied for a grant. The grant was awarded to them specifically for that use, Bernier said.
“People ask the same thing about Penn State. Why are you building a new hockey arena on top of all your operating costs?” Bernier said. “Because that’s what the money was given for.”
The reconstruction of the M (Nittany Mall) Route and the transition to “Express” Route for some of the R (Waupelani Drive) buses are in anticipation of The Villas at Happy Valley and The Retreat at State College, respectively. Both are intended to open for the fall of 2013, and Bernier said adjusting now would allow CATA to be sure that the routes are well set for the following year.
Last year, CATA not only had to deal with increased operating cost but significant state budget cuts, leading to a 6 percent service cut — but Bernier said they are not looking at much of a cut for the coming year.
Bernier said CATA has been lucky to operate on natural gas, so it has not experienced much of an increase in fuel cost. An increase would have made cuts significantly larger, he said.
Cuts this year were a last resort, Bernier said, after looking at merging and streamlining as much as possible.
“We chose that plan, even though it is far more difficult, because it preserves the ability to have [the service] for people who really need it,” he said.
Those who received the draft budget Thursday expected some changes to occur.
State College Borough Manager Tom Fountaine said he was not surprised that, with the current economy, CATA was feeling some “strain.”
State College Borough Council will evaluate the draft budget for approval some time in May, Fountaine said.
College Township Manager Adam Brumbaugh said he was disappointed that College Township routes would see cuts, but he understood that cuts had to come from somewhere. He said he is working with the CATA staff to address some concerns before the council looks at approval later this month.
State College Borough Council UPUA Representative Brendan McNally said he has received numerous complaints this year from students who felt they were waiting too long to get back to their off-campus housing at night. It is still unclear whether or not this will be improved or worsened with the changes, he said.
But McNally (junior-public relations) said CATA has tried to make changes minimal.
“CATA has been really transparent with the local government, giving us updates and reports so that there weren’t any unexpected changes,” he said.
On-campus routes are still up for discussion with Penn State, Bernier said, because Penn State underwrites a large portion of the Loop and Link costs, but he is not expecting any significant changes.