Scot Vanderpool took the helm of TCAT in August of 2017. He came from Syracuse University where he was responsible for parking and transit services in January of 2017. One of his first projects as general manager of TCAT is rolling out 11 new buses.
The buses come from Gillig, an California-based bus manufacturer. The new buses look similar to older models from the same company, but are more efficient and have features like lower windshield-glare for drivers.
“The reason we picked Gillig was because we’ve had luck with Gillig,” Vanderpool said. “We have Gillig buses in our fleet already. They’ve held up better than other options out there.”
The buses have been on the road for a month, and the feedback from drivers has been positive thus far.
“We’ve had a lot of good input from the drivers, they really like to drive them,” Vanderpool said.
TCAT now has a total 54 buses, one is out of service indefinitely due to a fire last week.
Vanderpool says he sees TCAT as a fossil-fuel free transit agency in the future. Electric transit buses are becoming a common use in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco, but they come a steep cost: $1 million dollars—double the cost of a diesel bus.
Vanderpool thinks the electric technology is not yet ready for Ithaca’s climate or geography.
“We have a lot of hills here, that is something we worry about, electric buses can get up the hills very nicely, our concern is about the battery,” he said. “When you talk about electric buses, it’s all about the charge.”
Vanderpool hopes to get funding for the electric buses through a federal or state grant, and said the mechanical staff at TCAT wants to learn the maintenance and features of the bus.
“We really want to learn the technology… I think we have that going for us,” he said. “It’d be a great learning experience for us to get one of these buses so that we can update our whole staff on how the process works.”
Improving service and staffing
TCAT has faced a staffing challenge for years, with staff members being forced work overtime since the transit agency is a public necessity. The agency has hired a recruiter to bring in new drivers and alleviate the driver shortage. TCAT now has 80 full-time drivers, and Vanderpool says mandatory overtime is becoming less-and-less.
Vanderpool was a transit driver for more than a decade, and says he is committed to improving morale.
“I eat lunch with the drivers almost every day,” he said. “We want their input, they’re the ones out on the road all the time—the drivers’ input is really everything.”
Riders are also pleased with a new app that allows them to track-busses in real-time. All but one of the buses can be tracked in real-time, and riders are notified of any delays or detours buses take.
“That’s something I haven’t seen in transportation… we can immediately get ahold of our customers from our dispatch,” Vanderpool said.
He wants to take technology a step further by adding Wi-Fi to buses to improve passenger experience.
“We think that will help with rural routes and people on the bus a long time,” Vanderpool said.
Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino is also pleased with the current state of TCAT after getting a tour of the facility in late-March.
“TCAT is a great asset to the community we have, it is a very robust transit program for a rural community like us,” he said.