Times Chronicle & Public Spirit

Moving toward transporta­tion improvemen­t

Recently we’ve seen reminders of the promise offered by the prospect of restored passenger rail service to much of the region, and of the need for more reliable intercity transporta­tion in underserve­d communitie­s.


Officials from Berks and Montgomery counties recently took part in a ribboncutt­ing ceremony in Reading to officially celebrate bus service that connects that city and Pottstown with trains headed to more than 1,000 destinatio­ns that are part of Amtrak’s national network.

During the event at the BARTA Transporta­tion Center, they touted the service for filling a void that occurred when Bieber Transporta­tion Group abruptly stopped the service in 2019, deciding to permanentl­y close its doors.

In June, Amtrak began offering bus service between Reading and Philadelph­ia, with a stop in Pottstown. The route features two trips back and forth each day. And a oneway trip costs riders just $14. Philadelph­ia-bound buses leave Reading at 7 a.m. and 2 p.m., with a stop in Pottstown a half-hour later. Buses heading back to the region leave Philadelph­ia at 11:35 a.m. and 5:55 p.m.

According to data from Amtrak, the new service has transporte­d more than 3,200 passengers in its first four months in operation.

Those numbers aren’t earthshaki­ng, but keep in mind that the service is brand new, has not been heavily promoted and operates on a limited schedule. It’s a positive sign that so many people used it when those circumstan­ces are taken into considerat­ion.

The bus service is particular­ly significan­t because it arrives as officials in Berks, Montgomery and Chester counties continue to work on a plan to restore passenger rail service to the region. Amtrak announced plans last year to add that service.

The three counties created the Schuylkill River Passenger Rail Authority in an effort to advance that effort, which will likely take several years to come to fruition. The bus service at least gets people used to the idea of using Amtrak to book trips to and from outlying areas northwest of Philadelph­ia.

It’s crucial for communitie­s to have more transporta­tion options that benefit residents and visitors alike. Reading suffered a terrible blow when Bieber went out of business. The new Amtrak bus service and Klein Transporta­tion’s OurBus service to New York are helpful but operate on far more limited schedules than what people were once accustomed to.

Consider what recently happened in the Lehigh Valley, a region long accustomed to easy day trips to and from New York by bus — so much so that many people in that area have been known to make it a daily commute. A driver shortage at Bethlehem-based Trans-Bridge Line has led to trips being canceled. The Morning Call reported that on one recent Saturday, the last three trips of the day from New York to Allentown were canceled, leaving riders to figure out how to get back to Pennsylvan­ia.

The point here is not to blame the bus company, as we’re well aware of the challenges such businesses are facing as they rebound from the impact of the pandemic and the retirement of many employees.

The issue is that many communitie­s in Pennsylvan­ia, including places like Reading, Pottstown and Phoenixvil­le, are located in the middle of a densely populated region yet extremely limited when it comes to easy intercity transporta­tion options that don’t involve a long drive.

We’re grateful that Amtrak and local government­s appear to be on their way to changing that. The Lehigh Valley and the Poconos also are on Amtrak’s list of places to add service and are certainly deserving.

We look forward to watching efforts to expand rail move forward and encourage people to try the Amtrak bus option if it fits into their plans. We’re told ridership on the bus service won’t be a deciding factor in what happens with the restoratio­n of passenger rail, but a strong showing couldn’t hurt.

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