Experimental changes are coming to the shared-ride program of the Transit Authority of Warren County.
The program, which utilizes smaller buses to provide door-to-door service particularly for senior citizens, will offer full five-day service anywhere in the county for the first time starting January 1.
The Authority board approved the measure during Thursday's meeting.
To understand the change, it's important to note that the Authority has divided the county into six service areas: Sugar Grove, Russell, Youngsville, Tidioute, Warren and Sheffield.
For example, in Sugar Grove, shared-ride service into Warren is provided on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Those utilizing the service in the Russell Area were limited to Monday and Wednesday.
"We propose to provide service in all Warren County service areas five days a week," TAWC Director John Aldrich wrote in a letter to PennDOT that officially requested the change. "This is being proposed to provide a more equal level of service availability for all County residents."
PennDOT approved the request.
Aldrich provided a history of the program to the board. Indicating that "ridership was only to the nutrition sites" when the program was instituted, he explained that the Authority "felt we should grow the program a bit" and started taking senior citizens to the grocery store. Continuing to review ridership trends in subsequent years, the Authority asked "to keep the program vibrant, what else do we need to do?"
The answer at that time?
"Let's bring people into Warren where all the services are," Aldrich said. From the VA to Pine Grove and Starbrick, "most of the services people needed were in the Warren area."
Experimenting with five day a week service is the next step in that program development.
"We think we should try to continue to grow the program a bit if we can," Aldrich told the board. "Try to grow the program where people from (throughout the county) can receive service five days a week, not just three or four."
In announcing that PennDOT approved the request, Alrdich said that the only question PennDOT raised was the affordability of the change.
"We need to do it in a measured way," Aldrich explained, indicating that there will likely be few riders to start. " I think we can try it. We need to be as efficient as we can in doing it. I think there's people out there who don't receive service and possibly (would) use the service."
Aldrich acknowledged that there may be some financial impact with the change but noted that that places a higher emphasis on efficiency, coordinating among riders when trips can be mutually beneficial while also ensuring that the trip is worthwhile for the Authority.
The goal is "better meeting the needs of all individuals," he said.
Noting that ridership has been down in the program recently, "we can absorb more," Aldrich noted, indicating that the original intent of the program was for rural areas. "If you don't have the trips you can't grow the revenue," he said.
Additional state funding for the program could potentially available if the experiment works. "If you grow over time, they'll provide more funds based on the trips," Aldrich noted.
One of the reasons that ridership appears to be down stems from a $.25 fee for seniors that was instituted for each time one boards the bus. But the program isn't just for seniors. Disabled individuals can receive a discount. Door-to-door service without a discount sits at $14.50 each time one gets on the bus but that can be reduced to $4.50 one way "if they go to a designated stop," Aldrich said. "(It's) reasonable if you can get to the post office and we don't have to go to your house." According to the Authority website, everyone desiring to use the shared-ride service requires at least 24-hour advance registration notice.