Fullington Trailways, a bus company serving the Lehigh Valley since 1908, has been forced to eliminate multiple routes — such as those that connect to New York City and Philadelphia — due to Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) budget cuts.
This intercity service was supported by both state and federal subsidies until last year, when PennDOT fund reductions resulted in its supported companies, such as Fullington Trailways, to start relying solely on federal funding. Therefore, some of its services were forcibly cut.
The cuts were not exclusive to Fullington and multiple bus companies in the area are being negatively impacted by the statewide reduction in funding.
Led by their President and CEO Jonathan Berzas, Fullington consistently challenged PennDOT in attempts to guarantee continued transportation within the area during the fund-cutting process.
Berzas said Fullington Trailways vyed for all of their previous routes they had been servicing for years.
“I can certainly understand that PennDOT has budgetary contestants,” Berzas said. “But I was sad to hear that the intercity rural program routes were to be cut.”
There were routes completely cut — such as schedules between Williamsport, Leighton, Allentown and Philadelphia — and many route services minimized, no longer accommodating some frequent users of the system.
With many individuals in the commonwealth relying on public transportation, this reduction and elimination of routes is felt by local communities.
Katherine Carvajal, an Allentown resident, had to be in Hazleton as soon as possible one day, but the bus stop cuts eliminated the Fullington bus she was supposed to ride. With no available routes to Hazleton the following morning, she had to take the bus a day earlier than intended, forcing her to take off a day from work.
“I’m missing two days of my job when I could’ve missed just one,” Carvajal said.
Press Secretary of PennDOT Alexis Campbell accredits the department’s finalized decision to an external study of the intercity bus system that spanned multiple years.
“PennDOT made the decision to solicit for new service providers to ensure the sustainability and efficiency of the program’s alignment with federal funding requirements,” Campbell said.
She said the bus service will continue to be robust, offering intercity services statewide for the duration of the near future.
But with fewer people willing to risk exposure to COVID-19 while traveling, buses have seen lower numbers of commuters, pushing some companies out of business, Berzas said. While improvement had begun with increased riders, this particular decision from PennDOT may halt the economic progress Fullington has made.
“As of today, we are still not fully staffed in our offices and still have buses parked that are still not rolling down the road,” Berzas said.
According to a Pennsylvania Transportation Revenue Options Commission report and Title 74 from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, additional bus funding requires an appeal to the federal government for money that no longer exists or has been allocated elsewhere.