Cornell and Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) have entered into a four-year service agreement that will see the university pay the bus company more than $3.3 million per year, with scheduled increases in years 2, 3 and 4.
The TCAT Board of Directors unanimously approved the agreement at its regularly scheduled meeting Sept. 28. The agreement is effective retroactive to July 1, and expires June 30, 2027.
In addition to this agreement, Cornell pays just under $1 million a year, as do TCAT’s other two local underwriters, the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County – bringing the university’s 2023 contribution to $4.32 million, roughly 22% of TCAT’s operating budget. Cornell’s annual service payment to TCAT – formalized with Memoranda of Understanding in 2015 and 2017 – is intended to encourage and subsidize the system’s use by students, faculty and staff.
“We are grateful to TCAT for the important service it provides to thousands of Cornell students, faculty and staff, as well as to our surrounding communities,” President Martha E. Pollack said. “Public transportation is a vital commuting option that helps to reduce traffic congestion and limit our area’s collective carbon footprint. We are committed to an economically sustainable TCAT system and to our ongoing relationship with the city and county in supplying this essential service.”
The service agreement allows Cornell staff and faculty to ride TCAT for free by swiping their university ID cards. First-year students, including master’s and doctoral students, receive a complimentary pass, and all registered Cornell students can ride TCAT for free after 6 p.m. weekdays and anytime Saturdays and Sundays by swiping their student ID card. After their first year at Cornell, all students have the option to purchase an OmniRide bus pass at a substantial discount compared with TCAT’s normal fare.
“We are very interested in TCAT’s success, and value the contribution that they make to our campus community very highly,” said Rick Burgess, vice president for facilities and campus services.
In the new agreement, Cornell’s base annual payment will be $3,332,522, payable in equal monthly installments. The base annual payment increase of 3% for the final three years of the agreement constitutes an approximate increase of $100,000 per year.
The 2017 MOU was set to expire in 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic was disrupting nearly every aspect of life, including public transportation. Over the last two years, Cornell and TCAT agreed to extensions that increased Cornell's payments above pre-COVID dollar amounts, despite drastic reductions in service.
“Negotiators representing both TCAT and Cornell worked collaboratively to reach a fair and adequate agreement, which gives TCAT time to rebuild service to the levels that university riders and our entire ridership deserve,” said Scot Vanderpool, TCAT general manager. “This agreement clearly demonstrates the university’s support to community public transportation and its commitment to local sustainability goals.”
Vanderpool said TCAT will continue its heavy emphasis on driver recruitment and retention as well as implement strategies for its maintenance department to improve its preventative maintenance and bus repair processes to get buses back on the road faster.
The new agreement establishes target service levels and incentivizes TCAT to meet or exceed those service levels, which is a change from the previous MOU. Payments in the final three years of the new agreement could be altered depending on actual service rendered on five Cornell campus-oriented routes – 10, 30, 81, 82 and 90.
Cornell would pay an additional amount if actual service exceeds an agreed-upon level; the university would receive a credit or refund if service falls below the level. Service levels will be evaluated three times a year, based on service hours provided on the five Cornell campus-oriented and adjacent routes.
“A robust transit service is the backbone to any transportation system,” said Bridgette Brady, senior director of transportation and delivery services (FCS). “Parking on campus is limited, and the ability to use public transportation at little or no cost to the rider is so important for people who need to get to campus on time for school or work.”
TCAT’s urban, campus and rural bus routes travel approximately 1.6 million miles a year, offering service to both county and out-of-county riders. The Cornell community comprises approximately 70% of the bus service’s users.