A new dimension in public transit will make its debut in the Chambersburg area on August 15.
The Stop Hopper will help people with unreliable or non-existent transportation to get to work, seniors to get to the grocery store, and anyone who wants to commute anywhere within a 15-mile zone squares. It will run from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The cost is $2 each way. With funding from the Pennsylvania Lottery, it’s free for people age 65 and older who sign up for ID. Children under 44 inches traveling with a fare-paying passenger also travel free.
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Local on-demand “microtransit” is a pilot project partnership involving the Susquehanna Regional Transportation Authority’s rabbittransit, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, and Franklin County. It’s funded primarily by PennDOT with a 15% match from the county, which committed $50,000 to the Stop Hopper this year.
It includes a nine-passenger Ford Transit van that can easily navigate residential neighborhoods. ADA accessible with a wheelchair lift, it seats eight plus one wheelchair or six plus two wheelchairs.
Rich Farr, executive director of the Susquehanna Regional Transportation Authority, drove the shuttle to the Franklin County Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, July 27 and also spoke about the service at the Chambersburg City Council meeting on July 11.
A slide in his presentation described “microtransit” as being on-demand; dynamic and flexible; technology driven; filling the gaps in traditional transport; and zonal or limited service area.
“When individuals have more mobility options, they have more opportunities to improve their quality of life,” Farr said. “We are proud to offer the Stop Hopper as an affordable way to help riders in small rural communities access the benefits of public transit.”
Where will the Stop Hopper go?
Valerie Jordan, who lives in the Fayetteville area, was at the commissioners’ meeting to get more information about free rides for seniors.
“I think it will be a very good service for seniors,” she said before the meeting. It may be faster to drive to the grocery store, but she said people can socialize in the van.
“When you’re a senior, you have a lot of free time,” she added.
Jordan learned where she lives outside of the current boundaries, but Farr stressed it was a pilot program. He said people should make requests, which will be tracked, and the footprint could change over time.
The Stop Hopper service area extends along US 30 from Warm Spring Road in the west to near Walmart in the east, and on US 11 south near Nellie Fox Bowl to beyond the Chambersburg business district.
Dave Keller, chairman of the commissioners, said he sees the Stop Hopper as a benefit to local employers struggling to fill vacancies and employees commuting to and from work.
“It’s one of our highest goals,” Farr said.
How does the Stop Hopper work?
The Stop Hopper is a cross between a fixed public transportation route and the shared transportation service currently operated in Franklin County by rabbittransit.
Rabbittransit has been the county’s shared-ride paratransit provider for the past seven or eight years, helping meet the essential needs of seniors and people with disabilities. Trips need to be arranged in advance and waiting times are longer. In the 2019-20 fiscal year, there were about 48,000 shared rides in the county, according to county administrator Carrie Gray.
Stop Hopper is a faster way to get around the Chambersburg area. The objective is to have a waiting time of no more than 25 minutes with a passenger on board for a maximum of 15 minutes.
Passengers can download and book through the Stop Hopper app on their smartphone. They will receive an estimate of the pick-up time, will be able to follow the shuttle in real time and will receive an alert when it arrives.
People can also call 717-846-RIDE (7433) or 800-632-9063 to plan a ride or report a vehicle to see if it has space for them.
Customer service representatives at these numbers can also talk to people about signing up and using the apps, as well as paying for their rides. Passengers will be able to pay in cash, through the Token Transit app or by credit card in the Stop Hopper app.
Farr noted that someone who doesn’t have a credit card can buy a prepaid card.
“We spent a lot of time in customer service providing information like this,” Farr said.
Leaflets and posters are distributed throughout the community with contact details. The flyers include QR codes to scan via smartphone to get the Stop Hopper app or for an overview, including frequently asked questions.
The evolution of the Stop Hopper
Franklin County is the last Stop Hopper stop. Farr said rabbittransit has been working on microtransit since 2017 and started offering rides in 2018. It’s the only ride program for which demand has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re about mobility,” Farr said. “We really want to improve people’s lives.
There are shuttles to various communities in York, Snyder, Northumberland, Columbia, Montour, and Union counties.
Stop Hopper launched in the Sunbury-Selinsgrove area in December 2021 and ridership exceeded the one-year goal in two months, Farr said.
If Chambersburg averages two-and-a-half to three runners per hour in year one, it’ll be on the right track. Four to five runners per hour are considered successful in the PennDOT pilot program, which will likely last two to three years.
Commissioner John Flannery asked if Stop Hopper could expand elsewhere in Franklin County if successful.
Farr said there’s a “laundry list of where we’d like to go next” across the region.
Shawn Hardy is a reporter for Gannett’s Franklin County newspapers in south-central Pennsylvania – Echo Pilot in Greencastle, The Record Herald in Waynesboro, and Public Opinion in Chambersburg. She has over 35 years of journalism experience. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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