Bus

Smaller Bus Systems Face Funding Issues for Replacement, Expansion

Posted on May 20, 2013 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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Since 1997, LANTA’s ridership has grown approximately 70%. Its close proximity to Philadelphia and New York City has been a major factor in that growth.
Since 1997, LANTA’s ridership has grown approximately 70%. Its close proximity to Philadelphia and New York City has been a major factor in that growth.
Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA)
Allentown, Pa.
Fleet total: 191 buses (fixed-route and paratransit)

Serving two counties spanning 730 square miles and serving an urbanized area population of more than 400,000, the Pa.-based LANTA provides fixed-route and paratransit services to Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

Last year, the agency provided more than 5.5 million trips on its fixed-route services and an additional 438,000 on its paratransit services. Its service area is approximately 70 miles north of Philadelphia and east of New York City.

“We all struggle with dollars and cents, however, that isn’t our greatest challenge at this point,” says Armand Greco, LANTA’s executive director. “Our real challenge is our community is growing, at least compared to other areas in Pennsylvania, very quickly and that is very much related to our proximity to New York City and Philadelphia. So, the need to expand services to meet the growing population base is our biggest issue.”

Since 1997, LANTA’s ridership is up almost 70% due to the growth in the communities it serves. What goes along with that growth, adds Greco, is LANTA’s need for more funds to both replace vehicles and expand its fleet.
“Interestingly enough, for the next year or two operating is in good shape,” he says.

Looking to become more efficient, LANTA completed a fairly comprehensive review of its system, culminating in the restructuring of its services.

“The realignment focused on increasing services in the heaviest corridors, with the rest of the routes restructured with some degradation of services,” Greco explains. “The restructure was built around the way the community has grown over the last 10 to 15 years.”

While the agency continues to battle with increasing frequencies to meet capacity, it is in the midst of a major fleet replacement program, including the addition of 24 diesel hybrid-electric buses from Gillig, 15 of which are already on site. The additional nine vehicles were recently approved for purchase in January 2013 and will include five, 35-foot buses and four, 40-foot buses at an estimated cost of $600,000 apiece. The new vehicles are already funded and expected to be delivered in spring 2014.

The larger issue is that the agency is on a 20-vans-per-year purchase program to keep its fleet of 108 paratransit vehicles in good shape.

“We had some legislation in 2007, which is why we are in good shape operating-wise, but right now there are very little federal dollars being provided for capital,” Greco says.

With property taxes being the main source of revenue for Pennsylvania municipalities, obtaining the additional funding to grow services and its fleet will continue to be a challenge for LANTA moving forward.

“Lehigh Valley and Northampton counties, our primary funders, have been good. We’ve had a very good working relationship, and, to date, we have not been underfunded,” explains Greco. “Our communities have been very supportive, but we haveve always built our relationship on holding their amounts down and getting as many grants from our state and federal partners as possible. Now, where we are going in future is another matter, with state and federal funding getting tighter and tighter every day.”

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