Feasibility Study: Bus Rapid Transit Adaptation

This section describes an ambitious bus-based option for improving public transportation in the corridor. It reflects an adaptation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) concepts to the corridor and would utilize existing roadways (i.e., U.S. 422, U.S. 322 and I-83) which parallel the rail right-of-way. Unlike many BRT systems, the plan does not call for buses operating on entirely new and exclusive roadways. Instead, existing roadways will be used with consideration of both physical and operational features at select locations to expedite bus movements through the corridor. This could include additional bus-only lanes for selected segments and traffic control features to expedite bus movements.

BRT is characterized by a menu of enhancements designed to attract “choice” riders who have a car available for the trip, but opt to use the bus system instead. Since most persons in the corridor use a car to make their trips, the choice travelers represents a significant potential market for public transportation. BRT is differentiated from traditional bus service by four key characteristics:

• Higher Speed – This could be achieved through a variety of strategies including operation of buses on their own right-of-way (where feasible) or on existing streets with preferential treatment; limited stop bus service which would afford time savings in comparison to local bus routes that stop every block or two; and off-line fare collection or new fare technology (e.g., smart cards) to reduce bus dwell times.

• Reliability – A high level of on-time performance is essential to attract and retain choice riders.

• Passenger Amenities – This could include bus shelters, passenger kiosks, benches and other features that would afford a more comfortable environment for riders, and real-time information displays of the time of the next arriving bus.

• Branding – The objective is to distinguish the proposed service from that ordinarily operated by the transit agencies in the corridor in an effort to attract new riders who currently drive to make work and other trip purposes.
Maximum Bus Service Design – The plan outlined here is a Maximum Bus Plan that could be approached incrementally. The more capital-intensive improvements could be deferred until ridership grows to a point where the investments are more cost effective. The following principles guided the development of alignment and bus stops and are summarized below:

• Simple Route Alignment – The proposed route would extend from the core area of Lebanon to downtown Harrisburg principally along U.S. 422, U.S. 322 and I83.

• Limited Stop – The proposed bus service would only stop in the centers of the more densely developed areas and at major generators. •
High Frequency – As shown in Table 3-1, the proposed “Full Service” operating plan at this stage of the analysis that calls for a significant increase in service. During both the morning and afternoon weekday peak periods, westbound buses destined for Harrisburg would originate every 20 minutes at both Lebanon and Hershey.

The resulting peak headways would be 20 minutes on the outlying route segment between Lebanon and Hershey, while the western segment from Hershey to Harrisburg would have a combined headway of 10 minutes. Proposed hours of operation are shown in Table 3-2.

Integrate with Other Routes and Services – The current service operated by COLT and CAT could continue to operate since they only serve portions of the corridor. Further, in many areas their buses would provide local service. Similarly, steps would be taken to integrate the new service with that operated by Capitol Trailways.

• Flexible – A key feature of rubber tire transit technology is that it can be revised to respond to growth or special conditions such as seasonal activities. Several examples of how the flexibility of the Maximum Bus Plan could be advantageous in the future include:

• Provision of special services oriented to either visitors or employees of Hersheypark

• Operating buses that collect/distribute passengers in the fast growing residential areas along PA 39 and then join the trunk route in Hershey.

• Service to potential developments such as a proposed new mixed use/business park development south of Rt. 422 in the vicinity of Mt. Pleasant Road in South Annville Township and the proposed mixed-use development being discussed in the southwest quadrant of the intersection of Rt. 322 and Mushroom Hill Road in Swatara Township.

Route Alignment and Stations – The proposed bus service and the suggested stops have been preliminarily specified. The stop locations may be revised as this alternative is subject to further analysis during more detailed planning studies. Access to the stations would be by multiple modes including walking, connecting local bus service, auto (include park-ride and kiss-ride access mode), bicycle, and dedicated shuttles for select areas to provide convenient connections to/from major generators that are beyond walking distance to the designated stops. Parking facilities could utilize existing parking lots (e.g., shopping centers) or new construction. The alignment of the proposed route and stations are shown in Figure 1, and a description of the proposed station locations follows.

Feasibility Study: Maximum Bus Plan Concept

The only local comparison to help inform this discussion was the estimated ridership and costs for the Capital Red Rose Corridor. Average weekday ridership on that corridor was estimated at approximately 900 boardings at opening, and construction costs were estimated at approximately $ 19.4 million. While the preliminary ridership estimate for the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor is higher than the Capital Red Rose Corridor, the capital costs for Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon will clearly be dramatically higher than the Capital Red Rose Corridor. Also, while the Capital Red Rose Corridor project has been exempted from application of FTA’s New Starts traditional rating criteria due to its low capital costs, the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor will not qualify for such an exemption.

After consideration of the preliminary demand estimates of approximately 1,500 per day, the qualitative assessment of relative costs of the alignment alternatives and service concepts, and the comparative information for both local and out-of-state peer systems, the Modern Transit Partnership directed the study team to focus attention of the following two options:
Rail Alternative – Construct a third track along the NS right-of-way, for the full distance from Lebanon to Harrisburg, that prioritizes passenger use during commute periods and is available to NS for freight usage during non-commute hours.

Maximum Bus Alternative – Implement a premium bus service, generally paralleling the NS tracks and following the Rt. 422 and 322 alignments, that employs as many attributes of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as are feasible; given the physical, operational and economic constraints that exist along the Corridor.

The full analyses for the selected rail and bus alternatives are documented in the remainder of this report.

Evaluation of a Maximum Bus alternative is appropriate both as a stand-alone alternative to potentially satisfying the long-term demand for high quality public transit service in the corridor; but also as a potential near term strategy that is part of an incremental approach to ultimately deploying commuter rail service in the corridor. One possible scenario is that through strategic investment in transit capital improvements in support of a frequent, high-capacity Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)-like service in the corridor, near term transit mobility needs can be addressed while also building a stronger transit riding habit in the communities along the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor. The increased acceptance and utilization of transit along with supportive land development patterns could converge in a fashion that enhances the prospects for and the ultimate financial performance of a rail system.

Description of the Existing Bus System

Currently, bus service in the corridor, which includes U.S. 422, U.S. 322 and I-83 and parallels the Norfolk Southern rail right-of-way, is provided by three bus operators: County of Lebanon Transit (COLT), Capital Area Transit (CAT) and Capitol Trailways. Each of the services and the routes within the corridor operated by these three carriers is described below.

County of Lebanon Transit – COLT operates about a dozen bus routes which focus on downtown Lebanon and the passenger terminal at 7th and Willow Streets. Many of the routes operate on a timed transfer basis, with buses arriving and departing at approximately the same time to permit transferring between bus routes without lengthy waiting times. Colt services provide connections between Lebanon City and Hershey (principally along U.S. 422 and Hersheypark Drive) and intermediate communities (e.g., Cleona and Annville).

Colt also operates Twilight service on several routes including Route 8 service to the Hershey Medical Center. As a result of a short-range transit study conducted by COLT while this study was underway, COLT is currently doing operational planning leading up to implementation of an express bus service between Lebanon City and the Capitol Complex in Harrisburg, via Route 934 and I-81.

Capital Area Transit – CAT provides bus service in the Harrisburg metropolitan area with the Market Square Transfer Center serving as the focal point of the system. The system is extensive and includes approximately 32 bus lines that includes local, express (i.e., park-ride), and seasonal service to Hershey.

Of interest in the current analysis are three routes that operate in or adjacent to the corridor. Route 8: Derry/Rutherford originates at the Transfer Center (i.e., 2nd and Market Streets) and operates principally along Derry Street and provides service to major generators such as Harrisburg Mall, Wal-Mart and Swatara Square. Route 322 operates between downtown Harrisburg and the Hershey Outlets utilizing I-83, U.S. 322 and U.S 422. The route serves the Hershey Medical Center and other activity centers in Hershey. Reflecting the importance of Hersheypark as a major employer, Route HP is operated on Monday through Saturday between Memorial Day and Labor Day and connects the uptown area and downtown areas of Harrisburg and the Hersheypark Service Center (i.e., employee entrance).

Capitol Trailways – This carrier operates a Reading-Harrisburg route that provides service within the study area, including both specified stops along the corridor (e.g., Annville and Hershey Medical Center), and flag stops along other portions of the route. The route originates in Lebanon at the Capitol Trailways terminal at Schneider Drive and North Lincoln Avenue. Three round trips are operated daily including weekends. The Capital Trailways service is the only current service that operates the entire length of the Harrisburg-Hershey-Lebanon Corridor. (Note: just prior to the publication of this report, Capitol Trailways was acquired by Carl R. Bieber, Inc.)
For the most part, the existing bus services provide local bus service in that passengers can board and alight over the entire length of the corridor. The services are not coordinated among the operators, with service east of Hershey provided by COLT and service west of Hershey operated by CAT.