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.