In the absence of other means of transportation, Greater Johnstown residents can – and often do – count on Cambria Country Transit Authority (CamTran) buses to get them around town and sometimes a little further.
Sports games and practices, grocery runs, doctor visits, library trips, outings with kids or grandkids – these are just some of the “causes” that CamTran vehicles serve. Many who depend on the city’s transit services readily acknowledge “we couldn’t have done it without CamTran.”
As a teenager without a driver’s license and with both parents working opposite shifts, Danielle Miller rode the bus to volleyball games at Roxbury Park and basketball games at the Greater Johnstown YMCA.
“In both cases, I was able to catch CamTran at the bottom of my road, approximately 10 minutes’ walk,” she recalls. Thanks to conveniently situated bus stops, “not only was I able to catch the bus at a great location, I was also able to be dropped off right by my destination without having to walk.”
Years later, Miller’s oldest son, Tristan, followed suit, catching the CamTran bus across the street from his middle school to get to swim practices at the Y. “His father and I were working and neither of us could have taken him to practice (at 4 p.m.),” she explains.
Miller says it did not take much preparation to ride the bus. “It took a bit of planning to make sure I reached my location in time … but it was a quick glance at the schedule; that was all.”
Not having to rely on others for rides to sporting events was one benefit of riding the bus. “As a teenager, I loved that independence,” she adds.
Miller says riding the bus was a good experience for her son as well. “(It was) a growing opportunity for him. It taught him responsibility. He had to keep track of his bus pass, he had to get packed at the end of school and get to his stop, so he didn’t have time to lollygag.”
More than the benefits, however, those bus-riding years also cultivated a sense of community.
“Not only when I was riding, but also with my son, the drivers kept an eye on us,” Miller says. “They asked where we were headed as we got on the bus. Then they made sure that we actually got off the bus at that location. It was just enough supervision that, in case my son started to daydream looking out the window, the driver would let him know they were reaching the YMCA.”
Miller, who today serves as the Learning Center Coordinator for the Friends of Flight 93 National Memorial, rode the bus for about four years, until she was old enough to drive. Then, as the oldest in her family, it fell on her to drive her younger siblings to their activities. Her son, now 23 and Petty Officer, First Class in the U.S. Navy, rode the bus for about three years until practice times changed and one of his parents was able to drive him.
The transit authority recognizes that the majority of its customers are “transit dependent,” says Rose Lucey-Noll, executive director of CamTran. “We understand completely what it means to depend on CamTran to get to where one needs to go. Our employees also understand how important our transit services are for the people who need these services, and this is what drives our mission.”
The transit authority is especially attentive to seniors and the physically challenged. Citizens aged 65 and up may obtain senior passes to ride any CamTran service free of charge, thanks to contributions from the PA Lottery fund and additional aid from the Cambria County Agency of Aging for shared rides. The senior passes are issued upon submission of proof of age and a completed “65+ application”, downloadable from the CamTran website or obtainable by mail or in person from a CamTran office.
Colleen Shaffer, retired and now working part-time, applied for her senior pass as soon as she turned 65 this year. She has a car of her own, but she wanted to have a pass in hand “just in case something happened.”
She appreciates the role that CamTran plays, having depended on its services for several years. In the mid-70s, Shaffer remembers taking her daughter on the bus to eye appointments downtown. The little girl “loved pulling the cord to let the driver know when we needed off.” Shaffer also rode the bus to work at Mister Donut downtown. “It was in the bus station where the pizza shop is now. I had to be there at 5:30 a.m., and it (the bus) got me there on time,” she adds.
For riders with physical challenges, reduced fares are available, subject to applications verified either by a doctor’s signature or a Medicare card. In addition, anyone may apply for the ADA Complementary Paratransit Service, which provides curb-to-curb or door-to-door service within a specified area.
Among the other services provided by CamTran are Rack-and-Ride (catering to bicycle riders), Park-n-Ride (available between Ebensburg, Johnstown and Altoona), Shared Ride/Reserve-A-Ride (a door-to-door service that operates on a fixed schedule and requires advance reservation) and Summer Youth Passes for children under 18, available at $1 per day for unlimited travel on fixed route buses.
“CamTran is one of only a few public transportation providers in the commonwealth that provide fixed route, ADA complementary paratransit, and Shared Ride/Reserve-A-Ride services under one agency,” Lucey-Noll notes.
“Our last fiscal year prior to COVID 19, we provided 1,094,000 rides across Cambria County,” Korrin Fisher, marketing manager, says. “We are making headway in regaining our ridership, and like many other transit agencies across the United States, we are in a recovery period from the effects of COVID-19.”
Fisher underscores that CamTran is committed to the well-being of its customers, having enforced high standards of sanitation and hygiene in view of the pandemic. Its drivers, in the meantime, also stayed their course, transporting essential workers to and from work.
CamTran operates a fleet of 31 buses on its urban services, and another fleet of 45 buses on its rural services.
Reflecting the transit authority’s move towards cleaner, more efficient fuel, the total fleet of 76 includes 37 vehicles running on compressed natural gas – 17 on the urban services and 20 on CamTran+ – with plans to acquire more CNG-powered buses.
CamTran also has pursued more environmentally friendly, more cost-effective energy with the 2018 installation of 296 solar panels on the roof of its administrative building in the Woodvale section of Johnstown. These solar panels generate 240,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power 35 houses. In comparison, a residential solar roof would typically generate some 10,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.
Education and training rank high on CamTran’s priorities for both existing employees and employable prospects. The organization offers a robust internship program for college students in a variety of our departments, and employees wishing to further their education may receive tuition reimbursement, says assistant executive director and chief operating officer Joshua Yoder.
Regarding the employment of high school students, Fisher points out that for the majority of positions, there are specific education, experience, and minimum age requirements that the authority must adhere to “which limits the availability of employment opportunities for high school students.”
However, to promote the opportunities CamTran provides for high school students upon graduation, the authority’s representatives participate regularly in career fairs.
“We have hired high school students typically during the summer months to work as clerks in our Inclined Plane Ice Cream Shop. Additionally, we have worked with Goodwill/CareerLink’s Summer Youth Employment Program to provide a workspace for youth to integrate educational experience with structured paid work experience,” Fisher says.
“While we do not currently have programs in place with schools or vocational institutes we are always looking to work with our partners in the community to grow not only public transportation talent but also talent throughout Cambria County,” Yoder adds.
Of the 120 employees, 64 are drivers – 42 on the urban CamTran routes and 22 at CamTran+, based in Ebensburg. Marketing manager Fisher explains that “fatigue considerations and oversight by outside agencies” limit the number of hours a bus operator can drive per day.
Jeff Hritz, 50, has been a driver for CamTran since 1999. “If you are a people person with a great attitude and you enjoy driving, this is, of course, a great fit,” he says. “This job has provided me the opportunity to support my seven children and my wife.”
Driver applicants need only a driver’s license to start, he adds, as CamTran provides the necessary training.
Hritz says the people he meets are the most enjoyable part of driving for him. “I enjoy the time that I get to spend with the people who board my bus and all of the stories they tell. I used to get quite a few older gentlemen who would ride my bus and tell me stories of when Bethlehem Steel Mill was running.”
Some of his experiences as a driver have been remarkable as well. He recalls the time a young woman went into labor on his bus. “It would have been an interesting thing to deliver a baby on my bus. Thankfully, I did not have to deliver a baby that day, but a nurse on my bus did help her off at the hospital and escort her in.”
In the garage, naturally a significant area of the authority’s operations, master technician Larry Parks, recently celebrated 45 years of service, or 46 including the year he spent with Johnstown Traction Company before it became Cambria County Transit Authority. Parks, who was originally hired as a bus operator with the Johnstown Traction Company in 1975, successfully bid on a mechanic job when the company changed names and he has worked in the garage ever since.
Parks serves as a “great mentor to all of our new technicians,” Fisher notes.
Regarding future endeavors, Lucey-Noll reveals that a consultant, Nelson Nygaard, was engaged last year for an in-depth service development plan project that included an evaluation of the authority’s fixed route services. Plans are underway to implement some of Nygaard’s recommendations in 2022, she says.
Current capital projects include the Inclined Plane Rehabilitation Project, bus replacements, installation of a new water/sewer line and bus wash in the Ebensburg facility.
CamTran’s presence in the community involves more than vehicles on wheels. The transit authority is “very proud” of its partnership with the Cambria County Emergency Management Agency, assisting with evacuations and providing buses to serve as heating or cooling stations for fire fighters, says Lucey-Noll. In the wake of Hurricane Ida in September, for instance, CamTran helped to evacuate 2,000 Cambria county residents who were in the flood path. Other contributions include sponsorships of events such as runs at the Cambria Country Trails, baseball tournaments, Thunder in the Valley and Northern Cambria Heritage Days.
“Our sponsorships and community partnerships are not limited to signing the check and moving on,” Fisher says. “We really try to have a presence at the events and show the community that we are not just saying we care for Cambria County; we want to show it.”
After all, “without Cambria County and the residents here, we don’t have a Cambria County Transit Authority,” she points out.