Rural Pennsylvania uses IMI Grant to Streamline Multi-Modal Transit

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: August 15, 2023

In NW PA, the Crawford Area Transportation Authority (CATA) has been working with Pennsylvania state transportation agency PennDot to develop a seamless system for riders to transfer from fixed route to paratransit.

CATA wanted to enhance transportation services in their rural region. Using an Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) Grant, the team partnered with tech companies Avail and Ecolane to create a unified online platform for scheduling, ticket purchasing, live vehicle information, and fare collection. While the pilot was welcomed by the community, the team’s work was complicated by the COVID-19 Pandemic and a lack of upgraded technology across their fleet.

An Ambitious Vision

With an extensive service area covering 1700 square miles and fixed route services in four communities, CATA serves as a vital rural transit provider. The project aimed to connect neighboring areas and enhance the overall passenger experience. CATA’s longstanding relationship with tech companies Avail and Ecolane laid the foundation for this new venture. To enable seamless payment integration across both fixed route and paratransit services, PennDot partnered with Masabi, a transit app that launched the “Ready2Ride” Mobile Ticketing System.

The Importance of Full Integration

Ten days after the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic began in March 2020, the CATA team received word that they had been awarded a $715,233 grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to develop their unified ticketing system. “We were going to upfit all fixed route vehicles and integrated technology to have a unified path,” explained Tim Geibel, Executive Director of CATA and Venango County Transit. “But service greatly reduced during the Pandemic, and ridership greatly reduced too.”

After receiving a year-long extension for the IMI project because of COVID-19, the team scaled their unified app experience for the small city of Meadville, PA. Meadville, 40 miles South of Erie, with a population density of 12,680 people per square mile, was a suitable location to pilot a cashless fare integration project. “Very good lessons were learned, and we hope that other systems can pick off where we left off and utilize what we learned for other systems that work in rural transit,” said Geibel.

A crucial lesson learned during the IMI research project was the necessity of having all vehicles fully equipped with the required technology. Initially, only a portion of CATA’s fleet had the new cashless technology, limiting the success of the pilot.

“When you have vehicle breakdowns and you’re moving vehicles around and don’t have every vehicle fully equipped with the technology and validators, it loses credibility, functionality, and dependency of the project,” explained Geibel.

Since the pilot, Geibel and his team have received positive feedback from drivers and passengers. “They recognized that the intent of the IMI project was valid. It proved that the tech can work, but right now the lesson learned was the necessity of having enough vehicles equipped with the technology to have the ability to accept and use at any given time,” said Geibel.


Next steps

To restart this project, Geibel says, will take capital funding to integrate validators into all vehicles to provide a seamless experience for passengers. Geibel’s team already has acquired tablets for all drivers in the 65-vehicle fleet and has cloud-based software to support a unified online platform for scheduling, ticket purchasing, live vehicle information, and fare collection.

“I hope this will become more of a statewide or regional initiative,” said Geibel. “For us to pursue independently rather than work from economies of scale doesn’t make sense.


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