Plan was to launch Tconnect in the Dryden area in spring of 2021
Tconnect’s original plan was to begin the weekday-only service in Dryden in April of 2020 and to integrate it with TCAT’s Route 43, one of TCAT’s busiest rural routes with 11 trips per weekday. Planners chose the Dryden area for the pilot based on census and local demographic data that identified a number of residential neighborhoods with little to no TCAT service. These include an untapped market of would-be riders who are low-income, senior citizens, and others with limited transportation options.
Pandemic prompts change of plans while maintaining project momentum
Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit in spring of 2020, project managers were forced to put the brakes on the Dryden launch. Business closings and stay-at-home-orders caused TCAT ridership to plummet and planners to cut service, most of which will be restored next month when fall service begins. Steep service reductions at the time rendered it unrealistic to launch a weekday, on-demand service whose market plan was dependent upon a robust Mon.-Fri. fixed route.
Instead of postponing the plan altogether, Tconnect planners opted to launch the Lansing-Etna service in August 2020 to maintain the project’s momentum and to analyze and refine the service model. Unlike the Dryden service whose major aim is to pick up new riders outside the TCAT service area, Tconnect’s Lansing-Etna route replaced TCAT’s fixed route 77, which had previously offered minimal weekend service.
Tconnect aims to provide relief to “transit deserts”
The Tconnect model has been in the works for more than two years and was created from a partnership with TCAT; Urban Mobility, Inc., creator of the HyperCommute app; Gadabout Transportation Services, Inc. and Way2Go: a program under Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County. Also, support came in 2019 when the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) awarded the project a grant.
In launching Tconnect, project managers here have joined a growing number of transit planners and advocates all over the country who are experimenting with similar, on-demand type models, referred to as “first-mile, last-mile” transportation and/or microtransit services. (See American Public Transportation Association story.)
These programs designate a geographic area with so-called “transit deserts,” or low-density residential pockets that don’t have enough demand to cover the high cost of fixed-route transit, but nevertheless a big enough population within a small enough geographic area to deem on-demand service efficient. Many of these areas include low-income households that are especially hard hit by a lack of affordable transportation.
Depending on the program’s success and available resources, Tconnect could expand to similar designated rural areas in Tompkins County not only to reduce economic and social barriers caused by a lack of transportation, but to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. A key component to Tconnect is Urban Mobility’s HyperCommute software, which tracks vehicle location, and, in tandem with rider requests, then instructs drivers via apps on driver screens on the most efficient route to pick up passengers all the while coordinating those trips to dovetail with the neighboring fixed route schedule.
Specifically for the Lansing area: Coverage area includes the Lansing Town Hall area (starting Feb. 7, 2021); Triphammer Road; N. Warren Road; the Winston Court area or so-called “Cigarette Alley;” Hanshaw Road (including Hanshaw Village); Lower Creek Road, Sapsucker Woods Road and Etna Road.
Riders are able to schedule trips in real time between 7:35 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. and between 1:35 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays to travel to destinations to include the Shops at Ithaca Mall, Cayuga Mall, the U.S. Postal Service and the Tompkins County Public Safety (Sheriff’s office/jail).
Or riders can make connections using the route 30/70 bus stop at the Shops at Ithaca Mall, which run to the Commons and Cornell. From the route 30, which operates 7 days a week, and route 70, which operates Sat. and Sun., riders can transfer onto other routes (at no extra cost) and complete their trips anywhere within the TCAT service area. Regular TCAT fares apply or $1.50 for adult single ride or half fare for youth 17 and under; seniors 60 and older; and persons with disabilities.
Why it’s important
Essentially, Tconnect is designed to help rural residents access TCAT’s existing bus service. As mentioned above, it allows users to schedule a trip either on a smaller TCAT as it will for the Lansing/Etna service or for the Dryden service, a Gadabout minibus. Trips can be scheduled using a mobile app or by calling the Tconnect office. The app will provide real-time vehicle location information for both the Gadabout and TCAT buses, assisting users in seamlessly transferring between services.
The goals of this project are to:
- Increase rural access to public transportation
- Reduce transportation barriers in Tompkins County
- Reduce the number of drive alone vehicles coming into Ithaca
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
To see a pre-pandemic press release click here.
To the right is an earlier video presentation to give a better understanding of what Tconnect will look like when it is launched in Dryden.