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.