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Red Rose Transit Authority eyes its biggest route changes in decades

(Source: Red Rose Transit Authority)

Lancaster County’s Red Rose Transit Authority is getting ready to begin making the most significant overhaul to its bus service in nearly half a century.

The RRTA, along with its Berks County counterpart, BARTA, form the South Central Transit Authority, or SCTA. Next month, officials plan to present to the SCTA board the first phase of changes designed to simplify and streamline the RRTA’s routes and provide more consistency throughout the day.

If approved in June, the changes would be implemented around the beginning of October.

They are based on the SCTA’s new Transit Development Plan, or TDP. Developed over the past year and accepted by the SCTA board in March, it lays out a game plan for the next decade, for Lancaster and Berks counties alike.

Gregory Downing

It is “sorely needed,” said Gregory Downing, SCTA’s executive director. For the RRTA, the new TDP represents the biggest rethinking of the system since it was laid out in 1976.

To be sure, there have been tweaks and adjustments over the years. But the changes in the geography it serves are far greater, and “the travel patterns of our passengers have changed dramatically,” Downing said.

Numerous destinations that are important today didn’t exist in 1976: Downing cited the Crossings at Conestoga Creek in Manheim Township, which opened in 2018; and Penn State Lancaster Medical Center in East Hempfield Township, which opened in 2023. Shopping patterns have evolved, too. Park City Center continues to be served by three bus routes, but Downing said the majority of RRTA’s riders are headed in the other direction, to the big-box retailers and shopping centers along the Lincoln Highway East corridor in East Lampeter Township.

The Transit Development Plan’s recommendations for Red Rose Transit Authority bus routes. Click maps to enlarge.

Developed by transportation consulting firm Foursquare, the TDP incorporates market analysis, a thorough review of existing ridership data, public input and an inventory of resources and funding, all of which inform its recommendations for RRTA and BARTA (Berks Area Rapid Transit Authority) alike.

The document’s recommendations center on the creation of “strong routes”: Ones that operate out-and-back along straightforward paths, are easy for riders to understand, serve high-demand destinations and operate at the same time or times each hour.

Overall, the TDP’s recommended changes would streamline and simplify routes. It proposes adding more bus shelters and, for the RRTA, establishing “mobility hubs” — enhanced bus stops or small-scale bus stations — at the Walmarts on Fruitville Pike and Lincoln Highway.

Recommendations for Lancaster and Berks counties are broken down into three phases. Phase 1 largely involves realigning existing service and involve minimal increased cost. Phases 2 and 3 require increasing service hours, which for the RRTA would increase operating costs by an estimated 12% and 40%, respectively — hopefully offset at least in part by revenue from increased ridership (and possibly by increased state support).

“No changes will happen overnight,” Foursquare’s Jessica Klion said.

Downing said the SCTA is committed to developing an “inclusive system,” one that gets people “wherever they need to go.”

(Source: Red Rose Transit Authority)

Darlene Byrd, who leads South Ann Concerned Neighbors, said she’s concerned about the changes resulting in fewer bus stops in Lancaster’s southeast. Downing said his team is revisiting the issue, and seeing if most or all of the stops can be retained. In some cases, the new routes mean that the buses would have to reach them through some of the southeast’s narrower streets, and the authority is evaluating whether that’s possible, he said.

Byrd also said she felt Foursquare’s effort to secure public comment could have been more robust. Downing has pledged to redouble public engagement efforts as things move forward: “I think that’s good,” Byrd said.

Downing said he intends the changes he brings before the SCTA board in May to encompass the full Phase 1 RRTA plan. His team had hoped to have things ready for the board this month — which would have allowed implementation in September — but staff ended up needing more time to fine-tune the schedules and double-check feasibility.

The board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, at the RRTA operations center, 45 Erick St., Lancaster. Once route changes are presented, that kicks off a 30-day public comment period. The board would then sign off on a final plan at its Wednesday, June 19, meeting, held at the BARTA operations center in Reading.

The public can comment via email or regular mail, SCTA Communications Director Jennifer Boley said. There will also be at least one public hearing scheduled before the board votes.

Contact the Red Rose Transit Authority

Downing said he’s fully on board with the TDP’s recommendations overall, but he emphasized that nothing has been finalized yet.

After route changes are approved, there’s a long process of laying the groundwork. The authority publicizes the planned changes and makes the necessary preparations, including new signage, driver training, updating of print and online route information and so on.

Then, after the routes are implemented in the fall, the authority continues to collect public feedback. If it’s determined that further adjustments are needed, they are handled in the same way: Decided in the spring, prepared for in the summer, launched in the fall.

Downing said he plans to bring Phase 2 before the SCTA board next year, followed by Phase 3 thereafter.

Phase 3 includes the possibility of adding microtransit, an on-demand door-to-door service provided in a subregion using minivans or minibuses.

In Lancaster County, Foursquare identified several areas potentially suitable for microtransit — the Columbia-Marietta corridor, the Route 772 corridor (Mount Joy-Manheim-Lititz) and the Route 322 corridor between Ephrata and New Holland. It’s not yet clear, though, whether demand would be high enough and the areas compact enough for microtransit to be cost-effective.

Foursquare recommended further research. SCTA has begun meeting with stakeholders and seeking a consultant for a feasibility study, Downing said.