Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit
Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, or TCAT provides public transit service to Tompkins County with most of the services revolving around the City of Ithaca and Cornell University. Parts of Tioga and Schuyler Counties were formerly served by TCAT.
Transit service in the city of Ithaca and Tompkins County had previously been provided by a variety of local actors. The earliest transit service in Ithaca was operated by the Ithaca Railway, a private company operating streetcars and later buses in the city of Ithaca. As with many privately operated transit agencies in the latter half of the 20th Century, Ithaca Railway went bankrupt in 1961 and was replaced with the publicly operated Community Transit System (Ithaca, NY) in 1962, later renamed Ithaca Transit in 1975. Community Transit System and Ithaca Transit were responsible for providing transit service within the city of Ithaca.
Greater regional transit needs around the county led to additional transit operations popping up in the area. In 1966, Cornell University began operating their own campus transit service, named CU Transit, and apartment complexes with large Cornell student populations to the northeast of Ithaca contracted with local charter bus operator Swarthout Coaches to create Northeast Transit (NET) in 1974. Beginning in 1978, Northeast Transit received backing from Cornell University and various city/town and county level governmental organizations. New housing with large student populations and Cornell University office developments to the east of Cornell University led to the formation of East Ithaca Transit (EIT), a cooperation between Ithaca, Tompkins County, and Cornell University. East Ithaca Transit would be operated by Tompkins County, as the first iteration of the Tomtran system associated with the inter-town transit services launched beginning in 1982.
In 1982, county-level service began to be provided under the Tomtran (Tompkins County Transit) name, with the commencement of commuter service between Ithaca and the outlying town of Dryden. Beneath the large Tomtran umbrella fell various branded services (routes) operated by the county; the aforementioned commuter service was dubbed Ithaca-Dryden Transit (IDT), and newly launched routes around the county received similar names (Ulysses-Newfield Transit - UNIT in 1985 and Caroline DAR - Care O Van later in the 1980s). The two miscellaneous pre-existing transit agencies, Northeast Transit and East Ithaca Transit, were also brought under the Tomtran umbrella. Commuter service between Tioga and Tompkins County also commenced during the 1980s with the formation of Tioga Transit, then a privately owned/operated public transit service. Tioga Transit would go on to operate several of TCAT's rural routes.
Demand-response, paratransit service also began operation in this era, with Gadabout Transportation Services Inc. commencing operation in 1976 as a cooperative effort amongst numerous local Tompkins County municipalities and human service agencies.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the three primary transportation stakeholders (City of Ithaca - Ithaca Transit, Tompkins County - Tomtran, and Cornell University - CU Transit) sought to simplify transit service across the county by combining their operations into a single entity. This was done in the hopes of consolidating fares, maintenance/vehicle facilities, and procurement processes, while also streamlining and eliminating duplicative service and management positions. As such, since 1991, the three stakeholders began to collaborate on projects such as the construction of a joint administration and maintenance facility, which has become TCAT's current office and garage at 737 Willow Avenue.
The steps to consolidate the three operations began to be taken in the late 1990s. TCAT was created in 1996 via the passing of Article 5-I, Section 119-s-1 by the New York State Legislature, which allowed for the three stakeholders to jointly provide mass transit service in Tompkins County. With the passing of this law, TCAT as an entity could be created, leading to the hiring of its first general manager and the launch of the current TCAT name and brand that same year. From a service perspective, the launch of TCAT coincided with the creation of a 10-minute downtown Ithaca-Cornell University circulator route (dubbed the route 10) and the delivery of the first buses in TCAT branding, 5 1996 Nova RTS-06s (961-965). TCAT was then formally organized on April 1st, 1998, when Ithaca, Tompkins County, and Cornell University established TCAT as a public joint venture per NYS Legislature. New York State recognized TCAT as a state governmental entity on April 12th, 1999, holding TCAT responsible to following state rules, regulations, and procedures.
As a joint-venture, transit service was centralized under the TCAT umbrella brand, but operations were handled by the stakeholders. For instance, in May 2000, zero people were employed by TCAT; rather, 104 staff were employed by Cornell, 28 were employed by Ithaca, and 1 was employed by Tompkins County. This extended to bus operations as well, with Cornell and city drivers represented by different unions (UAW Local 2300 and Civil Service Employees Association 855 respectively), having different compensation agreements, driving separate routes, and thus bidding on separate batches of runs.
Although operations of most TCAT routes were handled in-house, some of the contracted-out portions of the pre-consolidation systems persisted into the TCAT era. The Swarthout Coaches-operated Northeast Transit, later receiving the TCAT route number 32, continued to be operated by Swarthout Coaches into the 2000s. Tioga Transport Inc.'s routes (36, 37, 42, 52, 60, 65) continued to be operated by them for TCAT. Although the various Tomtran/county-operated routes had their own distinct branding (East Ithaca Transit, Ithaca-Dryden Transit, etc.), their operation had never been contracted out and thus they remained in-house with the transition to TCAT, only being redesignated with route numbers (Ex. East Ithaca Transit became the route 51). As TCAT does not operate paratransit in-house, it contracts with Gadabout to operate this ADA-mandated service, which remained the separate, unofficial "fourth" transit agency in the county throughout the consolidation process. Of note, this ADA paratransit service operated by Gadabout is considered separate and supplementary to their original mission/operation of providing demand-response service to elderly and disabled residents of the county. Gadabout operates out of the same facility as TCAT, sharing vehicle storage and maintenance space and occupying part of the administrative portion of the garage.
To fulfill its purpose, TCAT undertook its Service and Fare Consolidation Project over 1997-1999, redrawing/rewriting its route network and schedules and consolidating fares across the network. The results of this project were implemented in August 1999, with the core/skeleton of that network persisting to the present day, albeit in a modified form following service changes in 2010 and operational challenges in the late 2010s-early 2020s.
In 2004, TCAT began its transition from a NYS government entity (affirmed in April 1999) into a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit (public benefit) corporation, re-creating Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit as TCAT Inc. This transition was completed in late 2005 following an agreement between TCAT Inc. and the UAW union.
In September 2008, TCAT took over operation of the six routes formerly contracted out to Tioga Transport Inc., instead handling operating the routes on behalf of Tioga County. This arrangement continued until November 30th, 2014, when Tioga Transport ceased to operate following funding complications (see the Tioga County Public Transit page for details). Most of these former Tioga Transport routes continue to operate with TCAT, though shortened to stay within Tompkins Count borders (route 52).
In 2009, TCAT's downtown transit center, the Green Street Station, opened, coinciding with some building reconstruction in its vicinity. The opening of the new Green Street Station did not result in the rerouting of any bus routes, rather, it was opened at the historic downtown terminus point for city and county buses that had been in use since before the 1970s.
In 2010, TCAT transitioned from a paper/ticket-based fare payment system to a fare-card based one with the introduction of the RideLogic farebox system. Developed locally by college graduates over 2008-2010, the RideLogic system supplemented traditional cash fareboxes as a second, grey/black-box-shaped farebox with a built-in magstripe and RFID chip reader allowing for electronic fare payment. This took the form of the TCard, which could come in the form of a traditional farecard equipped with a magstripe or a key fob with an embedded RFID chip. RideLogic also allowed local colleges to turn their student ID cards into fare payment cards using the box's RFID chip-reading capabilities. As of 2023, the RideLogic system is being replaced with conventional Genfare fareboxes.
Although TCAT has historically focused on traditional, fixed-route service, various on-demand type services have been tried. The first was the implementation of the route 41 "Demand-and-Response" service in 2010, which sought to replace a litany of fixed routes attempting to serve several very low density rural towns in the northeastern corner of the county with a general demand-response zone, where buses provide customizable, "off-route" pickups within a geographic area. Once buses left this area, they would operate along a fixed route into Cornell University's campus. Though initially successful, the route 41 DAR was reverted to fixed route operation and folded into another nearby route due to coronavirus service reductions. An unrelated, more modern demand-response service model was also pursued beginning in 2020 following the winning of a NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) grant to be used on implementing microtransit in a rural setting. This microtransit service, dubbed Tconnect, was originally planned for launch in the rural town of Dryden, allowing people living in the service's boundaries to "hail" a bus via a mobile app for travel anywhere within the service area. Due to coronavirus, the Tconnect model was instead used to convert an existing, low-ridership rural weekend route (77) into on-demand operation. Although a TCAT concern in terms of funding and planning, dispatching was handled by Gadabout. Tconnect was eventually trialed in Dryden in late 2021 using Gadabout-operated vehicles instead of TCAT's own vehicles and drivers. All Tconnect service ceased by December 2021 following the exhaustion of grant money.
TCAT has conducted two route redesigns in 2010 and 2021, following the original network that was implemented in 1994. The 2010 plan sought to eliminate many of the redundancies in TCAT's network, creating a simpler network with fewer routes but more concentrated, streamlined, and easier-to-understand service. The 2021 plan sought to tweak the network slightly to address routing inefficiencies, a set of specific unaddressed service needs along pre-existing routes, and the implementation of on-demand transit service (Tconnect). Due to operational difficulties, many of the recommendations from the 2021 plan have not yet been implemented.
Please see the Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit Bus Routes page
Garage & Administrative Offices:
- Address: 737 Willow Avenue, Ithaca, NY 14850
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone Number:607-277-7433
- Fax: 607-277-9551
Note: Garage and administrative facilities are shared between TCAT and Gadabout.
|Low Floor 40'
|1107 renumbered to 1118 following a fatal accident
|OBI - DBNA
|Orion VII EPA10
|Low Floor 40'
|Formerly numbered 1107
|Low Floor 40'
|Low Floor 40'
|Low Floor 40'
|Used primarily on rural routes and the Route 77 on weekends
|Delivered March 2021
Coach and Equipment
|Delivered March 2022
|To be reassigned to another vendor
- C TRAN (New York) operates the route 30 from Elmira to downtown Ithaca, Cornell University, and East Ithaca
- Cortland Transit operates the route 6 from Cortland to Dryden, as well as the route 7 which continues to Cornell University and East Ithaca
- Schuyler County Transit operates the route 6 from Watkins Glen to the Enfield Park and Ride and Cayuga Medical Center, both west of downtown Ithaca but within TCAT's service area/connecting with TCAT routes