TCAT’s 2021 board chairman Dan Klein said he believes TCAT can rebuild ridership and achieve stability while still holding onto its vision for the future.
“No doubt, the pandemic has derailed public transit and nearly every other sector of our economy, and we have our work cut out for us,” said Klein, who kicked off this year’s inaugural meeting of TCAT Board of Directors Thurs., Jan. 28. “Still, we need to support the momentum we gained prior to the pandemic.”
Klein (shown right) said TCAT and local stakeholders over the past few years have produced a framework for growth and improvement codified in the agency’s Strategic Plan 2018-2030, which calls for a number of capital and operational improvements. TCAT still needs to address problems associated with its long-overcrowded Willow Ave. facility that outside consultants deemed would be best solved by the construction of a new facility. A lot of careful planning, resources and hard work went into laying the groundwork for a new facility and for other projects,” he said, adding that, without investment, TCAT won’t be able to meet pledges outlined in local comprehensive plans to reduce carbon emissions.
Klein has served on the TCAT Board of Directors since 2016, three years after he was first elected and subsequently re-elected to the Tompkins County Legislature, District 7, covering Caroline, Danby and a part of the Town of Ithaca. He replaces TCAT’s 2020 board chairperson, Bridgette Brady, senior director of Cornell University’s transportation and delivery services, who now assumes the role as the TCAT board’s immediate past chair.
Klein praised Brady for her “strong leadership” during a year that disrupted public transit along with nearly every other industry. TCAT’s 2020 ridership was about 1.4 million or 66 percent lower than the year before when TCAT logged a healthy 4.2 million trips. Last March, when the pandemic first escalated here, TCAT’s ridership abruptly plummeted by 90-plus percent. Ridership now, compared to the same pre-pandemic months in 2019, is now down about 75 percent.
Though it’s anybody’s guess just when and how transit will recover, investment in public is a proven remedy to a stalled economy, he said. Citing industry statistics from the American Public Transportation Association, Klein also noted that every one dollar invested in public transit nets $4 to the local economy. Additionally, he said, a number of economic development projects, from residential to commercial, are still underway in Tompkins County that have the potential so increase demand.
Funding cuts at any level will force transit agencies to reduce service and halt mobility innovations, including the roll-out of more dynamic demand-and-response service models to address changing transportation needs. For people who can afford their own vehicles or have the choice to work from home, reductions in service won’t be so devastating. It’s those who are transit dependent and who need to travel to work — including many essential workers — who will suffer the most, said Klein, citing a Jan. 21 New York Times editorial entitled: “Keep the Trains and Buses Running,” that calls for more public investment for transit. If not, agencies will be forced to reduce service, which can propel transit into a downward spiral, or as the Times editorial board writes: “As the availability of transit contracts, people will tend to use it less, which leads to further cuts in service.”
Despite the continuing challenges ahead, Klein said he is looking forward to seeing some of TCAT’s visioning come to fruition this year, such as the late-winter arrival of seven new electric buses that TCAT purchased with state grants and proceeds from the Volkswagen lawsuit settlement. Said Klein: “We will have visible proof on the streets for everyone to see that TCAT is moving forward and fulling its mission in an environmentally-friendly and forward-looking way.”
About the TCAT Board
TCAT’s board is structured as follows: City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell University are TCAT’s local funders. TCAT was established as a joint venture of transit agencies from each in 1998, and later became a private, not-for-profit corporation, effective 2005. As such, each funder is entitled to nominate three people to serve on the board. Those recommended, in turn, are considered for election by the TCAT board and, in their capacity as TCAT board members, serve TCAT independently.
In addition to Klein and Brady, the seven other members who are continuing to serve on the board include:
- Deborah Dawson, Tompkins County legislator (District 10), recommended by the county.
- Jennifer Dotson, executive director for The Center for Community Transportation, recommended by the city.
- Laura Lewis, Ithaca Common Council 5th Ward alderperson, recommended by the city.
- Ducson Nguyen, Ithaca Common Council 2nd-Ward alderperson, recommended by the city.
- Frank Proto, former Tompkins County legislator, recommended by the county.
- Gary Stewart, associate vice-president, Cornell University Community Relations, recommended by Cornell.
- Denise Thompson, manager of Cornell’s Off-Campus Living, recommended by the university, who is serving as the board’s 2021 secretary/treasurer.
TCAT 2021 board committee assignments go into effect Feb.1 and are as follows:
- Audit: Proto (chair); Dotson and Thompson
- Budget: Brady (chair); Dawson and Lewis
- Executive: Klein (chair); Brady; Lewis and Thompson
- Human Resources: Dotson (chair); Brady and Dawson
- Planning: Klein (chair); Dotson and Stewart
- Transit Service: Nguyen (chair); Proto and Thompson
(Photo by: TCAT Asst. GM Mike Smith)