Support for Mass Transit

Supporting the local mass transit system is Cornell’s single largest transportation initiative...

leadership icon

Support for Mass Transit is a Leadership goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).

Develop and implement comprehensive strategies to support mass transit in Tompkins County and increase ridership.

Goal: Support Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, Inc. (TCAT) to reduce impacts of Cornell commuter travel.

Reducing transportation energy demand and shifting to non-fossil energy sources will require long-term, concerted effort. In the short-term, Cornell will continue to focus its attention on mass transit system improvements. As TCAT’s largest customer, accounting for roughly 71% of annual ridership, Cornell wields significant influence as a major proponent of mass transit in Tompkins County. Supporting the local mass transit system is Cornell’s single largest transportation initiative.

TCAT is a not-for-profit corporation that provides public transportation for Tompkins County. TCAT’s annual ridership is more than 4 million and its routes cover a distance of about 1.6 million miles. TCAT’s fleet of approximately 55 buses currently includes 8 hybrid electric-diesel buses. TCAT also offers complementary ADA Paratransit services called Gadabout. In 2011, TCAT was recognized as the nation’s “Outstanding Public Transportation System” in the 1-4M ride category by the American Public Transportation Association. For more information about TCAT, visit

The three TCAT partners—Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, and Cornell University—allocate operational funding for TCAT, each currently contributing about $900,000 annually. Cornell makes an estimated annual contribution of $3.5M to TCAT: roughly $900,000 in operating funds plus $2.6M in bulk fares to fund the OmniRide program. The three partners split budget deficits and capital acquisitions three ways.

In 2015, TCAT will add New York State’s first hydrogen fuel-cell bus to its fleet, and a hydrogen station will open in Ithaca to fuel the bus and other fuel-cell vehicles. The station will generate hydrogen right on site, and it will be the first public hydrogen station in upstate New York and one of only a dozen in the country. Fuel cells produce electricity from a chemical fuel, so fuel cell powered vehicles have long ranges, fast refuel times, and emit no carbon pollution. Paul Mutolo (EMC2), a fuel cell chemist and director of external partnerships for the Energy Materials Center at Cornell, helped develop the federal grant proposal to purchase the new bus. Seed funding to research sustainable hydrogen production, awarded by the Atkinson Center in 2012, was instrumental in facilitating this groundbreaking effort to create an infrastructure for emissions-free transportation.

Next Steps

  • Continue operations and management role with TCAT.


Continuation of the OmniRide program depends on adequate fares and partner contributions to meet TCAT’s operating and capital expenses.