In fall of 2016 local municipalities contracted the Kennett Region Economic Development Study. It included a survey of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Our strengths included Longwood Gardens, being “The Mushroom Capital of the World” and our top weakness was public transportation, or the lack of it.
The solution to transportation in Chester County, the richest county in Pennsylvania, is everyone owns a car. The problem with that is the second biggest problem for Kennett is traffic and parking. Plus we have climate change which is exacerbated by more cars.
Then there is the fact that Southern Chester County has a large cohort of people who are under-resourced and with the current minimum wage you can’t afford a car unless you are living with your parents. And the demographics of our population is getting older and you really should turn in your driver’s license at 85.
Nearly 14 percent of the70,000 households in our area live on less than $35,000 a year and nearly 10,000 households don’t make enough to own a reliable car and pay rent, and there are 5,000 people over the age of 85.
This leads us to the question of what should we do about it? One answer comes from Steven Higashide’s book BETTER BUSES, BETTER CITIES - How to Plan, Run, and Win the fight for Effective Transit. He says “Rapid, sustained transportation change rarely happens without an alliance between creative, fearless, independent advocates; politicians willing to stand up for transit; and visionary bureaucrats who can communicate transit’s value in ways that inspire members of the public and potential political allies.”
Kennett is fortunate that we have begun to address this through the Southern Chester County Opportunity Network (SCCON). SCCON is a community-wide initiative made up of people who want to see poverty addressed in comprehensive, collaborative ways. One of SCCON’s teams is addressing transportation and is led by Lucy Oblonsky PhD of KACS (the food cupboard). She has had a lot of help, including Tim Phelps, Executive Director of the Transportation Management Association of Chester County (TMACC), John Meisel also of TMACC, and Gary Krapf President of Krapf Transportation.
They focused on SCCOOT, the local bus that travels from Oxford to West Chester,weekdays. The SCCON transportation survey in 2019revealed that only 6% of folks were using public transit, but nearly19% wanted to. A lot of people simply didn’t know there was a public bus in Southern Chester County.
SCCOOT runs from West Chester, through Kennett, Avondale, West Grove to Oxford. It operates on weekdays starting around 5:30 am, ending by 8pm. It is free for seniors and reduced fare for folks with disabilities. One-zone rides are $2.50 and get you from Oxford to Kennett Square. The two-zone fare of $4 only hits when you want to get to West Chester. In West Chester you can connect to SEPTA.
Nearly50% of riders use the bus for work or school commuting--About 20% for shopping--10% for medical and another 10% for social. Bus riders are from lots of places and speak lots of different languages and make it work. Bus language is universal. Work commuters really count on the SCCOOT bus and it provides a very affordable transportation option.
With the preliminary info from the survey, the SCCON team convinced TMACC and Krapf to run a project to use data to look at ridership, brainstorm on reasons for lack of ridership, and bring in community input on ways to increase ridership.
Three key areas were identified: Community Awareness of the bus, Consistency of the bus service (signs posted, rider experience uniformity, bus appearance for instance, on-time performance), and Route/Frequency Optimization (bus going to/from the places people want/need to go when they want/need to get there).
In September 2019 the new route and schedule was launched. By December, we observed fare-paying ridership was up 37 percent year-over-year and now in January remains up 35 percent year-over-year. The new bus stops were among the most utilized, some in the top 10-15 of the 45 stops SCCOOT makes. This is very encouraging.
The team spent weeks doing community outreach, meeting with over 30 organizations, libraries, and businesses to try to increase awareness of SCCOOT. Funds have not been available for advertising SCCOOT so the team got creative. Community partners like LCH and KACS launched social media campaigns to support the bus and TMACC launched a “SCCOOT Community Partner Group” that’s meeting quarterly to keep the improvements coming.
Next time you are on Baltimore Pike, look for the green and white SCCOOT signs and buses. Maybe give public transit a try yourself.