(ITHACA, NY) At the first monthly meeting of the year, the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) Board of Directors voted to approve a 20 percent budget increase to the company's annual budget and formally accepted a report that states the organization is not in a place to offer free transit.
The operational budget now totals $19.2 million, which accounts for higher employee benefit costs and wage raises needed to attract and retain drivers and mechanics. TCAT is funded by organizations at the local, state and federal levels. Locally, Cornell University, Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca comprise about 15 percent of the budget. Another 30 percent comes from the NY State Mass Transportation Operating Assistance program, which reimburses travel agencies based on their ridership and miles traveled.
Cornell University, Tompkins County and the City of Ithaca increased their funding by five percent despite being asked for an eight percent increase. However, TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool said the three percent difference from TCAT’s original request is not enough to impact TCAT’s ability to provide service for the year. Three local underwriters also agreed to contribute an additional $95,249 each to match state and federal funding targeted for capital improvements. The capital improvement projects include renovations to part of the agency’s Willow Ave. facility and to replace its failing fare collection system.
We thank our local underwriters and we appreciate that they need to base their decisions on what they deem reasonable, and based on their own budgetary needs,” TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool said in a media release.
Also during the Thursday meeting, the board formally accepted a report that concluded TCAT is not in a position to become a fare-free agency at this time.
“Given these difficult and fluid and uncertain conditions, and given that going fare-free would put additional strains on the system, it is the conclusion of this committee that going fare-free at this time is not feasible and is not recommended at this time," said former TCAT Board Member Dan Klein in the report.
To become fare-free, TCAT says they would need significantly more employees to accommodate a surge in ridership as most agencies that become fare-free notice significant increases in ridership. Over the past year, a shortage of drivers and other transit workers affected regularly scheduled routes. However, at some point in the future, Vanderpool believes TCAT may be able to reconsider the proposal when the agency has more resources like more drivers and support staff.
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