Jeffrey Gallman drove the Krapf transit bus into the garage at West Chester Transportation Center in Chester County. It was the last stop on Route A, a privately-run route that serves passengers riding between Coatesville, Exton, and West Chester.
Gallman has driven the hour-or-so ride for eight years, he says, and has gotten to know people along the way.
“Every day you work and people go to work, you see them, you try to encourage them and create an atmosphere of optimism and positivity,” Gallman said. “That’s what I’m about.”
But soon the riders will be without Gallman’s good vibes if all goes according to plan for SEPTA. On Thursday, the SEPTA board approved a proposal to take over the bus route at the cost of about $68,000 and introduce the Route 135 bus.
The move leaves Gallman and other Route A drivers with a decision to make about their future with the company or elsewhere.
“Life don’t stop because of SEPTA,” he said. “There’s other work.”
The bus route has been under the control of Krapf Transportation, a private transportation company based in West Chester, since 1982 through the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission. The route typically carries more than 1,200 passengers a day at $2.75 per trip, seven days a week between 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.
But last year, that revenue took a hit when ridership dropped to about 25% of its pre-pandemic levels. Since April 2020, SEPTA has provided more than $810,000 in subsidies to Krapf to keep the route going and maintain access to essential services after the pandemic crushed ridership.
According to SEPTA, Krapf “has been unable to document that it can sustain ongoing bus operations” on the route without the extra financial boost, and SEPTA officials can no longer subsidize the route into FY2022. So with blessings from PennDOT and Chester County officials, the authority aims to run a new bus service on the route on Aug. 1.
The new bus route will expand the 45-year old Frontier Division. The 25-route division serves Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery counties.
SEPTA officials estimate the new bus operation will cost $1.19 million, but a route adjustment to the Route 92 bus service to prevent overlapping service between West Whiteland Township and West Chester will offset $313,000.
The move comes as SEPTA works to stem its own pandemic-related losses while maintaining the services it needs to boost ridership. The regional transit agency recently began reimagining its bus routes systemwide as it tries to keep pace with demographic shifts and changes in how people work.
Route A rider Isabelle Rigollaud of Coatesville exited the bus at West Chester Transportation Center, on her way to work at a local bakery. She expressed enthusiasm about the coming change. After riding the bus over the course of two years, she said she hopes SEPTA will increase the frequency of the service from every hour to every half-hour at least.
“If I miss one, I am late an hour to work,” Rigollaud said. “Can I have one bus every [30 minutes]? It would be very nice.”
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