CENTRE AREA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY
REGULAR BOARD MEETING
October 22, 2001
STATE COLLEGE BOROUGH COUNCIL CHAMBERS
BOARD MEMBERS PRESENT:
John Spychalski, Chairman
Donald Sherman, Vice-Chairman
Richard Kipp, Treasurer
Hugh Mose, General Manager
Joseph Gilbert, Director of Transportation
Judith Minor, Director of Administration
L. Eric Bernier, Director of Service Development
Diane Heichel, Executive Assistant
Richard McCarl, State College Borough Liaison
I. CALL TO ORDER
Chairman Spychalski called the meeting to order at 4:02 p.m.
II. PUBLIC HEARING
Chairman Spychalski called the Public Hearing to order noting that CATA is proposing a fare increase to become effective in 2002, either in January or August. This increase would represent the first base fare increase since August 1997, when CATA increased fares from $.85 to $1.00. The proposed fare structure would increase CENTRE LINE fares from $1.00 to $1.25, with corresponding increases in token and pass prices, and paratransit fares.
Chairman Spychalski opened the floor for discussion, requesting that anyone wishing to address the Board be recognized and approach the podium and state and spell their name for the record. Comments will be limited to five minutes.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Ms. Hanna Futhey, Patton Township. Ms. Futhey stated that she truly appreciates the bus drivers. They are all friendly, generous and willing to answer questions. She feels that many people do not realize that they may someday be in the situation when they cannot drive. Ms. Futhey asked about the following funding issues: What can CATA do to find funding to support the bus system's financial needs besides raising rates? How much is CATA involved in the decision-making process concerning how much they receive through state and federal funding? Is the bus system actually under the direction of another form of government, other than this Board of Directors, such as the Council of Governments?
Mr. Mose briefly outlined the funding sources which support the entire bus system, noting that half of the total operating cost comes from fares and payments/contributions by entities for purchase of service such as the Penn State University and apartment complexes. The other funding sources include local shares from the five municipalities served by the Authority. Each is represented on the Board of Directors, which is CATA's decision making body; however, their decisions are controlled by the funds available. Chairman Spychalski noted that the one decision the Board does have control over is the fare structure. As much as the Board has tried to maintain the fares, the escalating operating costs for the Authority make it necessary to consider an increase at this time.
Ms. Futhey asked what parameters would determine if the fares would be raised in January rather than waiting until August of 2002. Chairman Spychalski responded by saying that the decision will be based on CATA's financial status near the end of the first half of the fiscal year.
In response to Ms. Futhey, Mr. Mose explained that the LOOP and LINK service is not actually free, but is subsidized by the University. Mr. Mose also stressed that the University is paying a very fair share of the operating budget.
Ms. Futhey pointed out that a fare increase will cause a loss of ridership, which will put more cars on the road and cause more frustration. Mr. Mose agreed, the fare increase will cause a loss of ridership; however, costs to operate the buses continue to rise and the Authority really has no choice.
Ms. Futhey asked if it would be possible to secure funding from other sources, as has been done with the University. Mr. Mose noted that there are apartment complexes which subsidize the passes for their tenants and briefly outlined the program and how the rates are determined. Mr. Mose also noted that half-fare prices would increase from 50¢ to 60¢, if the base fare were raised to $1.25.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Ms. Gloria Thompson, State College Borough. Ms. Thompson noted that she e-mailed a letter to Mr. Bernier, but wanted to make sure the Board was aware of her views. She strongly urged the Board to lobby the government to subsidize further the costs of the public transit system. She feels the service should be expanded, the fares reduced and the bus service subsidized by the government in order to reduce future construction of more and bigger roads.
Chairman Spychalski noted that funding is sought from all levels of government, and he urged all members of the public to contact their elected officials regarding transit funding. Ms. Thompson asked if the Authority would lead a campaign to lobby for government funding. Mr. Mose noted that the Authority would not be able to lobby for funding, but would do as much as staff time would allow to work with other entities willing to campaign on behalf of public transit.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Mr. David Barro, State College Resident. Mr. Barro stated that if we want people to see what makes State College great, then we have to be able to accommodate more people to come here. Mr. Barro also noted that if a fare increase is implemented, it needs to be widely advertised before it goes into effect. He feels that better information on how to purchase a bus pass would also be beneficial to those who have never purchased a pass before.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Ms. Kathleen Dougherty of the Centre Daily Times. Ms. Dougherty asked if there would be any special provision for low income families who are already struggling to pay the current $1.00 fare for their bus transportation. Mr. Mose noted that there is no structure in place at this time, and he was not sure if the Authority would be legally allowed to implement a special fare structure based on income levels. However, the purpose of this hearing is to collect information, and this might be something the Board may wish to consider at some point.
In response to Ms. Dougherty, Mr. Mose stated that in general, the fare increase would avoid a repeat of last year, when the Authority finished the fiscal year over budget. One of the elements that caused the Authority to go over budget was the very high price of natural gas. This year, as fuel prices have come down, the Authority has locked in the lower prices, so while this has insured against an increase in prices, it has unfortunately foreclosed the opportunity to take advantage of falling prices should they go even lower than they are now.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Ms. Catherine Sabatine, a PSU student. Ms. Sabatine noted that she has been speaking with other students regarding their feelings about a fare increase. Her observation is that the majority of the students are not concerned with the quarter increase, but are concerned with having to have the exact change. If they only have bills, and the drivers do not give change, then the ride will cost them $2.00.
Chairman Spychalski noted that there is no mechanism for drivers to give change, so it would be up to the riders to make sure they have correct change or tokens. Otherwise the rider may consider the other 75¢ as a contribution toward supporting the bus system.
Chairman Spychalski again recognized Ms. Futhey who stated that for years she has carried rolls of dimes or quarters in order to make sure she has the correct change for the buses. She also added that tokens are very convenient.
Mr. Bernier noted that copies of written comments were distributed at the meeting for the Board's review. Chairman Spychalski noted that all comments and statements received by email or regular mail will be entered into the minutes and taken into consideration by the Board.
E-mails received by CATA in response to the advertised public hearing are as follows:
Ms. Gloria Thompson, State College, email 10/21/01. Ms. Thompson stated that if fares are increased, CATA will risk losing riders and higher fares will hurt those who most need to use public transportation. She also stated that ridership will suffer even more if service is cut anywhere. Ms. Thompson expressed the benefits of public transit and her feeling that this service should be highly subsidized at every level of government and by businesses too, which should supply bus passes as regular employee perks. Ms. Thompson's email also expressed the opinion that everyone should be trying to ward off more highways tearing up the countryside and increase subsidies paid for public transportation, making it possible for CATA to expand in both frequency and service area."PennDOT should throw some of its road-building money into local and regional bus service. And local government must start to think of buses as a major tool in resolving road congestion."
Bryan K. Barley, Patton Township, email 10/22/01. Mr. Barley reported his frustration with constant changes which confuse the riders more than they improve service. He also expressed his dissatisfaction with the following:
- Constantly overcrowded buses, stating that he feels like a sardine. He feels this is unsafe.
- Service that only runs until 12:40 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. This restricts people who would prefer to stay out later and may cause people to drink and drive since they do not have a late night bus service. Service should be run until after 2:00 a.m. every night.
- Inconsistency of bus schedules. Mr. Barley recognized that unforeseen problems, like traffic, accidents or even a person in a wheelchair can throw a bus into running late, but he feels there is no excuse when a bus runs early. Many times he walks to the bus stop in plenty of time to meet the schedule only to see the bus already going down the road.
Mr. Barley added that although it's been years since CATA has implemented a fare increase, as long as service is not expanded all year and there are still such issues as overcrowding, he opposes any rate increase. He suggested that the Authority explore other options for making up lost revenue, such as having the University subsidize more or have the apartment complexes pay the same rate as everyone else for their residents' bus passes.
Mrs. Irene Locey, State College, email 10/22/01. Mrs. Locey expressed her amazement that our government officials would allow the Authority to raise fares and reduce service. She stated that good public transportation is the only lasting answer to the constant downward spiral of gridlock, new roads, gridlock, new roads, gridlock, . . . etc.
There being no further comments, Chairman Spychalski closed the Public Hearing at 4:34 p.m.
III. PUBLIC COMMENTS - CITIZEN INPUT
Chairman Spychalski called for comments or input from the general public on topics other than the fare increase.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Mr. Barro. Mr. Barro noted that he has been riding the M Route for the past 4 years, usually traveling to Wal-Mart, rather than the Nittany Mall. The intersection at the Nittany Mall and Wal-Mart has no pedestrian amenities and it is very dangerous to try and walk across the Benner Pike at that location. Riders on certain trips of the X Route need to transfer to the M Route at the Mall to go to Wal-Mart; however, this is not always easy to do. The M bus driver does not always wait until all the riders get off the X bus before they pull out. Mr. Barro asked if the drivers could be instructed to always wait for the other bus to unload before leaving. Although it would be easy for the drivers to communicate to each other when they have a transfer, riders with bus passes do not ask for transfers therefore the driver does not know someone needs to catch the other bus. Mr. Barro stated that he has missed the M bus going to Wal-Mart because the X bus driver did not communicate to the M bus driver to wait.
Mr. Barro also noted that it's been his assumption that the X and M bus drivers have sort of an agreement and normally don't offer passengers transfers, nor do they ask for them. Mr. Davidson suggested that the rider make a practice of letting the driver know if he/she needs to transfer to another bus, even if they have a pass.
Mr. Barro also asked the Board to consider adding a later bus in the evenings to accommodate those people who work or shop late at Wal-Mart and Barnes and Noble, which both stay open later than the Mall.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Ms. Faye Wohlwill, State College Borough. Ms. Wohlwill stated that she purchased her home about 20 years ago and has always had a bus stopping close by going to the Hills Plaza. Recently, that bus has been taken away from her stop and she only has the B Route which does not run as often as she is used too. Now she has to walk from Schlow Library to get home from the P Route and this is difficult and takes her about 20 minutes since she walks with a cane.
Ms. Wohlwill also noted that the Authority needs to do more advertising to promote bus service to the downtown area.
IV. OLD BUSINESS
A. Approval of Minutes of September 24, 2001 Board Meeting
Mr. Sherman moved that the Board approve the minutes of the September 24, 2001, Board meeting. Mr. Kipp seconded the motion. There being no further discussion, Chairman Spychalski called for a vote and the motion passed unanimously.
B. Receipt of the September 2001 Finance Reports
Ms. Minor reported that the tire expense is low on this month's report only because the bill was not received on time. The insurance expense is high because there was a special charge for our audit for claims adjustments. The staff has been taking a more aggressive stand toward self-adjusting claims with minor property damage and no liability, which should reduce those costs in the future. Office supplies also seem high as a result of two unusual expenses - the annual cleaning of the money counting machine and quarterly maintenance on the copier.
In response to Mr. Powers, Ms. Minor explained that the Authority is at 21.8% of expenditures for the year, and this same percent will also be shown on page two. After revenues are calculated, the difference between revenues and expenditures is balanced on this page. The critical thing to look at is the difference between expenses and operating revenue and how much is coming out of subsidies.
Mr. Mose also noted that he normally looks at the comparison of what percentage was spent at this time last year. This time last year the Authority was at 24% of expenditures, which shows that we are doing a better job of staying within the operating budget.
Mr. Mose also commented on the increase in ridership and pass sales revenue. The Paratransit Summary shows that this ridership also continues to grow. Pass sales revenue continues to run substantially ahead of last year. This is being monitored to see if it's because people have pre-purchased passes for the semester or entire year, rather than month-to-month or if it's actually an increase in the number of passes sold. Mr. Mose also noted that Centre Line ridership is up slightly over the past year even though there was one less weekday in September this year. Mr. Mose reviewed the different routes and the ridership levels, noting a drop in ridership on the A Route as a result of the changes made on that route this fall. He also stated that the H Route, which has not changed, is up 39%. The S Route is up substantially, which demonstrates that it takes the public a longer time to figure out how the service works.
In response to Ms. Wohlwill, Mr. Mose explained the difference between the LOOPs and LINK.
Mr. Davidson moved that the Board receive the September 2001 Finance Reports. Mr. Powers seconded the motion. There being no further discussion, Chairman Spychalski called for a vote and the motion passed unanimously.
C. FY 00/01 Service Standards: Final Report
Mr. Bernier reviewed the Service Standards Year-end Report for July 2001, noting that this form has been submitted to PennDOT to show the Authority's performance for the past year. He also reviewed the five-year comparison chart which shows the Authority's performance levels. Mr. Bernier also pointed out how the comparisons reflect the increase in service. In FY 2000/01 the Authority met or exceeded eight of the eleven goals established to measure system performance.
In response to Chairman Spychalski, Mr. Bernier noted that the Miles Between Road Failures seems higher than what it might normally be. Operations replaces vehicles even if they have not actually failed out on the street. For such things as an air conditioner failing in the summer, the bus is replaced, even though the bus could have continued its shift. Each of these incidents counts as a road failure. We also switch out a bus whenever Operations even thinks it may not make it through the shift. They do not wait for a bus to actually break down. Anytime a bus is replaced on the road, it's considered a road failure.
In response to Mr. McCarl, Mr. Bernier noted that the average of breakdowns is more than one, but less than two, per day.
Mr. Sherman moved that the Board accept the FY 2000/01 Service Standards Report. Mr. Kipp seconded the motion. In response to Mr. Powers, Mr. Bernier noted that the staff generates the actual goals, although the standard measurements are created by PennDOT. In response to Mr. Davidson, Mr. Mose noted that if the Authority had not gone over budget, we would have met the Operating Ratio goal. There being no further discussion, Chairman Spychalski called for a vote and the motion passed unanimously.
V. NEW BUSINESS
A. Receipt of 2000/01 Audited Financial Statements
Ms. Minor noted that Reinsel and Company, the Authority's audit firm, is responsible for preparing both year-end financial statements and the federally-required single audit report, which includes information on federal grant activity and compliance with requirements for federal grantees. The information included in the financial statements and single audit reports was reflected in the final June Finance Reports distributed at the last Board meeting.
Ms. Minor noted that with changes made by staff at the beginning of the year, the single audit report notes that the reportable condition regarding segregation of accounting duties has now been corrected. However, the report notes two findings regarding cash management, both involving drawdowns of federal funds. Ms. Minor noted that these issues pertain mainly to her disagreement with the auditors on certain points.
The first finding notes that the Authority requested and received operating funding in July 2000 which exceeded the amount justified by the end of that month. Federal regulations limit operating funding to 50% of the deficit for the year; the auditors have interpreted that requirement as applicable to any point during the fiscal period. The Authority's response, which is included in the report, notes that future operating drawdowns will be based on justified amounts at the time of the drawdowns.
The second finding notes that the Authority requested and received capital funding in advance of their disbursement, which is not permitted. As noted in the report, a malfunction in the electronic drawdown request system terminated a payment request during data entry. The payment request was successfully re-entered, but funds were disbursed under both requests. Excess funds were credited back to the appropriate grants as soon as the duplication was discovered and the Authority now checks and confirms its wire deposits daily, in order to detect any irregularities in a timely manner.
Ms. Minor added that there are no questioned costs associated with either finding, which are the result of one-time circumstances and do not indicate on-going or systemic deficiencies in the Authority's cash management procedures.
Mr. McCarl mentioned that the Borough's auditor reported that there will be a substantial change in how their audit will be presented next year and he wondered if this would affect the Authority as well. Ms. Minor will check with the auditors, but she has heard of no such changes.
Mr. Powers moved that the Board receive the FY2000/01 year-end Financial Audit and Single Audit Report and authorize their distribution. Mr. Davidson seconded the motion. There being no further discussion, Chairman Spychalski called for a vote and the motion passed unanimously.
B. CATA Marketing Plan
Mr. Bernier noted that the Draft FY 2001/2002 Marketing Plan included in the Board packets is for the Board's review. He then went over the most significant elements, noting that the plan is more scaled back and more focused on targeting routes that are not operating at full capacity. Mr. Sherman asked about providing more public information on how to purchase tokens and passes. Mr. Bernier noted that this is an evolving guide, always changing as the demand warrants.
In response to Mr. Sherman, Mr. Bernier reviewed the factors which are used to determine the need for special shuttles to events such as PSU basketball games. In response to Mr. Davidson, Mr. Bernier noted that a marketing program which would target riders of less than college age was eliminated this year as part of the budget cuts. However, there are other inexpensive approaches not included in the plan, such as facility tours for pre-school or elementary age children. Mr. Mose noted that in bringing this plan to the Board, staff is seeking input on what areas the Board is interested in focusing on.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Ms. Wohlwill who noted that she sees very little marketing on the buses and she feels that more should be done to promote service to the downtown area.
Chairman Spychalski recognized Ms. Futhey who also noted that she sees very little advertising for using the buses. She did notice some ads on the buses about parking on the perimeter and riding the bus into town, but pointed out that if people drive and do not ride the bus, they would not see the advertising. She also mentioned that she heard that CATA won some kind of award but did not see this advertised either.
C. November Board Meeting
Mr. Mose noted that the regular November Board meeting is scheduled for the Monday immediately following the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Because this is a time families travel and are otherwise occupied, Mr. Mose had initially considered recommending that the November Board meeting be cancelled and replaced with a work session on long-range issues. However, should the Board wish to consider implementing a fare increase in January, waiting until the regular December Board meeting to take formal action will leave very little time to revise public information to reflect the new fares. The Board may also wish to consider holding a work session to discuss the implications of a fare increase prior to any decision. In order to accommodate both a work session and a Board meeting early enough to allow action on a January fare increase, Mr. Mose recommended that the Board consider holding the November Board meeting either on November 29th, as scheduled, or on December 3rd, with a work session during the week of November 12th or November 19th, prior to Thanksgiving.
The Board scheduled a work session on Monday, November 12, 4:00 p.m., in the CATA Board room at the CATA facility at 2081 West Whitehall Road.
Mr. Davidson moved that the Board hold the November Board meeting at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, December 3rd in the State College Borough Council Office. Mr. Powers seconded the motion. There being no further discussion, Chairman Spychalski called for a vote and the motion passed unanimously.
Mr. Mose also mentioned that beginning in January the CATA Board meetings will be held in
the new State College Borough building on Allen Street. The Borough will be opening their new
building on December 26.
VI. OTHER BUSINESS
A. General Manager's Report
Mr. Mose reported on the following items:
There being no further discussion, Chairman Spychalski adjourned the meeting at 5:33 p.m.