YCAT comes of age

By John Andoh
Transit Director
Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority
Yuma, AZ

Before 1998, only private transportation companies operated any type of transit service in Yuma County, with taxis serving the urbanized areas and private van services providing transportation between San Luis and Yuma.

Paratransit in Yuma County began in February 1998. When the Saguaro Foundation began operating a public dial-a-ride system funded by YMPO in 1998, YMPO’s fixed-route service began in February 1998 with service between San Luis and Yuma under the name Valley Transit.

Public transportation began in the southwestern region of Arizona in 1998 with Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization (YMPO) receiving funds to provide bus transport from Yuma to San Luis. The service evolved into Yuma County Area Transit (YCAT) in 2002.

Funding challenges and concerns expressed by local governments regarding the planning and operation of transit service, as well as the State of Arizona eliminating the Local Transportation Assistance Fund (LTAF) in 2010, nearly brought an end to YCAT.

With closure looming, two funding partners, the City of Yuma, which had discontinued its funding as of 2010, and Yuma County, which increased its funding to compensate for some of the loss, initiated the process to create a separate intergovernmental public transportation authority (IPTA), which would assume the operations and administration of YCAT from YMPO.

Left without LTAF, the municipalities funding YCAT were facing significant issues as to what services were important to fund and what services needed to be cut. Since each member agency had provided a local matching LTAF II contribution, its elimination placed into question the need for bus service that was not serving the population effectively.

With the notion that a separate regional transit authority to be formed by July 2011 or the transit system be shut down, a subcommittee of the YMPO Executive Board and each member agency increased its contribution in a last ditch effort. The prior administrator of YCAT did not have the necessary staff or resources to continue to manage the agency.

The creation of YCIPTA
The Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (YCIPTA) formed in 2010 to administer, plan, operate and maintain public transit services throughout Yuma County, and includes political jurisdictional boundaries of the Cities of Yuma, San Luis, Somerton, Town of Wellton, as well as unincorporated areas.

By the end of 2011, these cities, Northern Arizona Univeristy, Arizona Western College and the Cocopah Indian Tribe had petitioned and received approval to become YCIPTA members. The Quechan Indian Tribe petitioned YCIPTA in 2012 to become the ninth statutory member agency of YCIPTA.

Businesses and organizations that include Arizona Western College, Northern Arizona University, University of Arizona Yuma, Yuma Regional Medical Center, Aztec High School and the Yuma Private Industry Council subsidize the system for their particular ridership group, and provide passes for their students, employees, faculty and volunteers. Free rides for their constituency allow for more trips on the transit system.

YCAT serves over 35,000 passenger trips per month with an annual operating budget of $3.1 million, which translates as 1,600 average weekday ridership trips.

Last year YCIPTA restructured the transit system based on information from the Yuma Regional Transit Study and outreach with transit passengers. The new plan restored routes within the City of Yuma, added service to the Quechan/Fort Yuma Indian Reservation, and provided Saturday service to new areas, including the East Cocopah Reservation and placed buses on major roadways. YCAT now travels to El Centro, CA, three days a week, in partnership with the Imperial County Transportation Commission.

Today, YCIPTA  relies on FTA funding  (FTA) funding is used to support YCAT and YCAT OnCall, which was the critical component during the transition of the transit system from YMPO to YCIPT  that allowed YCIPTA to access Yuma Urbanized Area funding.  With each member agency participated in local match funding.

The YCAT fleet
We currently operate a fleet of 18 New Flyer and ElDorado transit buses, as well as nine EZ Rider, Aerotech and Chevy cutaway vehicles, on 11 routes. We also provide service to the Cocopah and Quechan Indian Tribes. We have a hub-and-spoke system that meets five hubs throughout our service area, which is 43 percent rural and 57 percent urban.

YCAT innovations
On the Orange Route 2/2A, our catTRAX system helps passengers determine the real-time arrival and location of the bus, which helps when a bus is running late. The YCATPass smartcard system launched in September.

We have also recently launched the YCAT Workshop, a travel training program. This will allow existing passengers, soon to be passengers, or those that have not used public transportation to get to know YCAT’s system. In the training session we talk about planning your route, locating a bus stop, paying fares, requesting a stop, proper bicycle mounting, and how to read and use all the tools available. Participants will receive a 10-Ride pass at the completion of the training session. We have also partnered with Greyhound and Amtrak in offering some local services.

Ride and read on YCAT
YCAT is partnering with the Yuma County Library District and Friends of the Yuma County Libraries in an effort to promote literacy. Together we have launched Libraries On The Go! an on-board library program. We installed book racks have been installed on all 27 buses, each stocked with books and magazines for passengers to read during their commute. They can read the books or magazines on the bus, take the book or magazine home and return it later to any bus, or donate an old book or magazine for others to read while commuting on YCAT. Best of all, no checkout process or late fees are involved

The goal is to help improve literacy in Yuma County. We also provide the daily newspaper for sale, free WiFi on several buses, and free water bottles when temperatures exceed 115 degrees.

Lastly, the YCIPTA is working on its five-year short-range transit plan in conjunction with YMPO. This plan will set the framework for YCIPTA in a fiscal and constrained manner, especially since the member entities are not able to contribute any more funding to the transit system and there is continued growth in population and transportation demand in Yuma County. The plan will also analyze marketing, capital needs, procurement of a new maintenance facility, development of an intermodal station and options for financing the transit system.