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Amtran may use infrastructure funds to reach outward

Amtran expects to receive a still-undetermined amount of money through the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, potentially helping fund non-traditional service enhancements to outlying areas of Blair County.

According to information provided after a visit Monday by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., the additional money, based on a formula applied to the $2.8 billion for transit that Pennsylvania as a whole will receive from the IIJA, could help Amtran realize the non-standard service it has been considering for communities to the north and south of Altoona as it puts together a “transit development plan.”

“In general, it doesn’t make sense to run big buses” to places like Bellwood and Tyrone or Roaring Spring and Martinsburg, Wolf said.

But it might make sense to run the organization’s new Ford Transit van to those places, he said.

The routes wouldn’t necessarily be once an hour — the standard interval in the city. They might not even run every day, he said.

They also might not be fixed, or entirely fixed, but rather, could be subject to adjustments based on customers who call in for service on particular days, according to Wolf.

Almost like “dial-a-ride,” he said.

The money is beyond the norm, so it’s an attractive option to use it for the experimental service expansion, Wolf said.

The additional funding is also expected to continue, year-after-year, so that if the service enhancements are successful, Amtran wouldn’t need to withdraw them from people who’d come to depend on them, as might happen if the money were a one-time infusion, he said.

Amtran tried service to Tyrone and Martinsburg about 20 years ago, using vans but dropped it for lack of ridership.

“We don’t want to assume that because we tried it once, it wouldn’t work (now),” he said.

If the organization tries the service expansion, it would need to accept that the customer numbers involved wouldn’t be as impressive, because the population to be served is sparser and distances traveled longer, Wolf said.

The organization is looking to the future, Amtran Deputy CEO Josh Baker told Casey, with a reference to the transit development plan.

The funding numbers from the state are expected by February, Wolf said.

Growing up in Scranton, Casey, son of former Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey Sr., didn’t ride public transportation much, he told Amtran staffers, board members and guests at the news conference at Amtran headquarters.

But he got used to riding buses in Philadelphia when he got a volunteer job as a teacher after finishing college, he said.

Still, he didn’t truly appreciate the community’s need until one day, he witnessed a woman getting on a bus while gripping several bags of groceries.

“It just hit me,” he said. “Unless she had that bus, she couldn’t have gotten those groceries.”

Public transit “helps folks live their lives,” he added.

In Altoona at least, “we don’t have people ride the bus because they want to,” said Amtran board Chairman Scott Cessna. “(But) because people have to.”

It includes older people and those with low incomes, but also students, Cessna said.

In addition to the $2.8 billion that will be coming from the IIJA to Pennsylvania, there will be other money for transit at the national level that will be available by application, according to Casey.

There is $5.1 billion for buses and bus facilities; $23.1 million for capital and maintenance projects; $5.6 billion for low or zero emission vehicle technology; $4.6 billion for rural area formula grants; $2.2 billion for programs to enhance mobility for seniors and people with disabilities, according to information provided by Casey’s staff.

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