The Beaver County Transit Authority (BCTA) is about to celebrate a major milestone; its 40th anniversary serving the people of Beaver County. BCTA was chartered by the Beaver County Commissioners in May 1980. During that time, BCTA transported over twenty (20) million riders on its fixed route and shared ride (DART) service systems. In addition, BCTA has effectively managed a specialized transportation program for Medicaid eligible clients under the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) transporting over 1.8 million passengers since 2003.
While BCTA started out as a non-operating Authority, the agency elected to become an operating authority in 2001 and now employs a work force of nearly 100 employees. The completion of the Rochester Transportation Center (RTC), the Expressway Travel Center (ETC) in Center Township, a fleet of new buses and a wide range of new technology led to that decision.
BCTA is the third largest provider of fixed route transportation services in western Pennsylvania. Only the Erie Metropolitan Transportation Authority (EMTA) and the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) provide more fixed route services. In fact, BCTA operated 52,464 vehicle hours and 1,016,517 vehicle miles in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2019. BCTA carried 760,098 passengers on its fixed route system during the last fiscal year. BCTA system operates between 15- and 30-minute headways at rush hours and 1 hour and 5 minute headways throughout the rest of the day presenting numerous opportunities to plan a trip.
BCTA also operates the most productive system (riders per hour) among all the counties surrounding Pittsburgh and Allegheny. BCTA serves commuters working in Beaver and Allegheny Counties, low income passengers working later shifts, college students, shoppers, riders traveling to medical facilities including clinics and hospitals, physicians, specialists, dentists, pharmacies, dialysis centers, drug and alcohol facilities, rehabilitation facilities, sheltered workshops and other locations. The impressive weekday service span is from 4:55 am to 11:09 pm. Service also operates on Saturdays between 6:30 am to 7:43 pm.
BCTA operates with one of the newest transit agency fleets in the Commonwealth. Over 70% of the fixed route fleet has been replaced in the last two years. The 17 new buses are environmentally friendly compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles. In addition, over 50% of the DART fleet has been replaced in the last year. The State recently approved another 8 new DART buses with anticipated delivery in January 2021.
BCTA’s fixed route services every community in the urban corridor plus Center Township, including the commercial area (Walmart Plaza, Beaver Valley Mall, and Township Market Place Plaza), where a free fare zone is in place. In September 2019, BCTA implemented changes to the routes to improve overall service.
BCTA offers express services to Pittsburgh on Route 65 and I-376. The use of the PAAC West Busway shortens the commuter trip from Chippewa and the ETC locations bypassing heavy traffic from Greentree Hill through the Fort Pitt Tunnel. The express service is a bargain at $4.00 per trip with opportunities for discounts with alternative BCTA fare media options.
The DART system transported 81,257 riders last year including the public, human service agency clients, disabled clients and MATP clients. The service operates county-wide including rural areas. BCTA’s coordinated approach to transportation has made DART a “one stop shop” for riders who are often eligible for more than one agency fare subsidy. BCTA’s own coalition, the state transit association and other stakeholders’ successful efforts at preventing a full risk regional broker model, proposed by the Department of Human Services (DHS), keeps the highly coordinated DART system intact and managed locally.
The DHS Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP), administered by BCTA, provided low income persons access to 10 hospitals, 718 primary care physicians, 1,860 specialists, 687 dentists, 77 pharmacies, and 6 dialysis centers in Beaver, Butler, Lawrence and Allegheny Counties. BCTA subcontracts with two important partners, Medic Rescue and R.J. Rhodes Transit, to provide a portion of the MATP services.
BCTA owns two park and ride facilities in Rochester (RTC) and Center Township (ETC). Commuters park free and board buses bound for Pittsburgh (Route 1 and Express 3 and 4). BCTA also partnered with the PAAC and the Borough of Ambridge to construct a regional park and ride on 11th Street. Both agencies provide service and riders conveniently transfer to PAAC buses for connecting service to Allegheny County and Pittsburgh. BCTA hopes to secure funding to enhance landscaping at the Ambridge location and provide screen fencing around the perimeter providing more aesthetically pleasing elements at that location.
In 2012, BCTA completed construction of the Rochester Roundabout Project bringing enormous benefits to BCTA’s fixed route system and a significant infrastructure improvement to the Rochester community and the entire county. The roundabout continues to ensure that BCTA buses connect for the major transfer activity occurring at the Rochester Transportation Center.
BCTA will soon award a contract for construction of an expanded park and ride adjacent to the ETC facility in Center Township. The property, owned by BCTA, is next to the McDonald’s location. The new park and ride will add 54 new parking spaces at a facility near capacity. In addition, BCTA will award a grant to address concrete issues at both the RTC and ETC and next spring’s construction will include repairing asphalt in the park and ride areas at both facilities.
BCTA monitors its fixed route system with an automatic vehicle location (AVL) system. The AVL system allows dispatch to track on time performance and communicate transfers, detours, accidents and other important information to BCTA’s Bus Operators. In addition, the system peripherals like ADA announcements, automatic passenger counters, electronic destination signs and its impressive reporting capabilities illustrate the significance of the system as a management tool. Real time signage is displayed at both the RTC and ETC facilities. The State is planning to replace the current system by an even more sophisticated AVL starting in August 2020.
The State has also approved additional capital funding to complete the installation of a vehicle collision avoidance system on BCTA’s fleet of fixed route and DART vehicles. BCTA tested the technology on nine buses between June and November 2019. The safety results were impressive. There were no accidents or incidents on any bus equipped during the test period. PADOT elected to fund BCTA’s remaining installations and they also plan to make the technology available to transit agencies throughout Pennsylvania.
BCTA recently installed new bus shelters and benches throughout its fixed route service area. In 2020, BCTA expects to add solar panels to the roof of the shelters to increase visibility and enhance safety. Likewise, BCTA expects to replace all 227 bus stop signs with reflective material to ensure that passengers are visible to Bus Operators. The Google text message code will still appear on each sign permitting passengers to dial in to get bus arrivals and departures in real time.
BCTA is preparing to submit a grant application for several multi-modal projects which include bike racks on its fixed route fleet, a new stop location on Wagner Road near Heritage Valley, the new residential development and the cancer center. If grant funds are secured, that location will include an ADA accessible solar bus shelter, a bike station and other amenities providing greater access throughout the commercial area and to the proposed extension of Monaca trail system.
BCTA installed new DART software through a statewide procurement. The software is utilized to schedule trips on DART and to maintain a client date base and reporting system. BCTA just completed the installation of a new Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system which confirms trips and pick up times the evening before plus a 10-minute call, in real time, prior to arrival of the bus on the scheduled day of service. BCTA plans a similar system for the fixed route system in late Fall of 2020, offering customers real time fixed route information during business and non-business hours. BCTA’s future includes on- line payment and an on-line scheduling enhancement for riders who do not require, or prefer, speaking with a customer service specialist for reservations.
BCTA is also ready to implement text messaging for fixed route service. Currently email alerts are available to passengers who sign up. Soon, text messaging will be an additional option for riders who carry mobile phones. The texts and email alerts come from BCTA’s dispatch center.
BCTA is also evaluating mobile ticketing options and expects to have a system in place in the Fall of 2020. Fixed route customers will enjoy the added convenience of paying their fare online and boarding with their smart phone.
BCTA will also be undertaking a major marketing campaign this spring. One goal is to build ridership, but another is to better educate Beaver County citizens about the value of public transportation in their communities; i.e. to improve the environment (clean CNG fuel, congestion reduction), to enhance mobility for all citizens (citizens with no transportation alternatives), to build more sustainable communities (more mobility choices) and to reap the economic benefits of an improved transportation infrastructure.