TCAT Board of Directors approves four-year contract with Cornell University

Oct. 17, 2023
Cornell University makes up 7o percent of TCAT's ridership and is the main provider of transportation for the university.

The Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) Board of Directors have approved a four-year contract with Cornell University to subsidize rides for its students, faculty and staff. The university will pay TCAT more than $3.3 million a year through 2027, along with potential increases that will depend on the transit agency’s recovery from the long-lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cornell community accounts for approximately 70 percent of all TCAT riders. Bus transportation is an essential public service to the university and surrounding communities. TCAT provides a sustainable commuting option that helps to reduce traffic congestion in our region, minimize the need for students, staff and faculty to bring cars to campus and limit the area’s collective carbon footprint.

TCAT offers Cornell staff and faculty free rides at all times on all TCAT routes and the option to purchase discounted passes for transit services in adjacent counties that connect with TCAT routes.
First-year, transfer and other “new-to-Cornell” students ride TCAT at no cost at all times while all other undergraduate, graduate and professional students at Cornell ride for free weekday evenings after 6 p.m. and all weekend.
After their first year at Cornell, all students have the option to purchase an annual pass through the university’s OmniRide program at a substantial discount, compared to TCAT’s normal rate.

At present, TCAT is providing about 70 percent of the service compared to pre-pandemic 2019 and about 750 hours weekly on campus-heavy routes during the current fall semester service period, which ends Jan. 20, 2024. Cornell is providing TCAT with a grace period and will not start evaluating service levels until the start of the agency’s five-month spring service period, effective Jan. 21, 2024.

“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 TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool. “This agreement clearly demonstrates the university’s support to community public transportation and its commitment to local sustainability goals.”

Cornell committed to paying TCAT about $3.2 million in its previous four-year agreement, then in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding. That agreement was first signed in 2017 with an end date of June 2021. Due to disruptions caused by the pandemic, Cornell and TCAT agreed to extensions, the last of which expired on Sept. 30, 2023. Those extensions increased Cornell’s payments above pre-pandemic dollar amounts, despite drastic reductions in service caused by driver and equipment shortages.

Vanderpool said he appreciates Cornell’s “consistent and solid commitment to local public transportation” and noted TCAT will continue what has been a heavy emphasis on employee recruitment and retention. The agency has already implemented maintenance protocols to get buses maintained, repaired, inspected and out on the road faster.

Cornell’s annual payment program, legally structured as a transit service level agreement for the “Cornell University Bus Pass Program,” subsidizes free or discounted riding privileges available to students, faculty and employees who combined constitute 70 percent of TCAT’s ridership.

The university is also a local funder to TCAT, along with the city of Ithaca and Tompkins County, with each making yearly payments in equal shares at nearly $1 million for operating funds, per a long-time transportation agreement with TCAT.

Cornell and the other local funders also make annual payments for capital expenses, a yearly sum that has varied between $95,000 and $152,000 over the past 10 years.