York County backs mass transit consolidation

Greg Gross
  • Nine counties would be included in the regional transit authority

York County stands to save millions of dollars if its mass transportation authority merged with two others to create a seven-county regional authority.

The counties — York, Cumberland, Perry, Franklin, Dauphin and Lebanon — would see combined annual savings of $2.3 million by consolidating fixed route and shared ride services to a single authority, according to a recently released state Department of Transportation study.

Three authorities, including the Central Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, better known as Rabbit Transit, currently oversee mass transit services in the region. The other two are Capital Area Transit and Lebanon Transit.

Though consolidation is years away, York County commissioners gave their support to continue efforts toward creating a regional authority and to continue working with officials from the other counties to hash out the details.

Savings: Cost-savings would come from eliminating duplicate administrative positions and services, reducing overhead costs and bulk purchasing and standardizing vehicle and parts across the region, the study states.

That would mean York County could see savings of more than $400,000 a year over a five-year period during which local contributions to mass transit would be waived, said Richard Farr, executive director of Rabbit Transit.

"The savings could potentially be there," he said. "We need to make sure services won't be hindered."

Under the law, counties have to put up local dollars for transit operations to partially match state and federal contributions but would be the first to see savings, Farr said.

In York County's case, it contributed $423,409 in 2014, $437,069 last year and is slated to give $442,808 this year, according to budget documents.

A 2014 merger of authorities in Berks and Lancaster counties resulted in savings of $2.8 million and $1.7 million, respectively, over the next five years, according to PennDOT.

Once the five-year waiver period ends, county contributions would revert back to the year when the waiver period started. That, Farr said, would mean long-term savings.

The study is the result of Act 89, the state's transportation funding plan, that called for PennDOT to examine potential savings by creating regional transit agencies.

Other mergers: Rabbit Transit has seen first hand the benefits of consolidating services. In 2011, Adams and Northumberland counties joined up and Cumberland was the fourth county to join the authority, in July 2015, resulting in savings. Franklin County is slated to come under the Rabbit Transit umbrella later this year, Farr said.

Before further consolidation efforts are realized, additional work must be done, Felicia Dell, executive director of the York County Planning Commission, said.

"There's still a lot of details to be worked out," she said.

Bill Jones, general manager of Capital Area Transit, said he's looking to the authority's board of directors, which is expected to form a committee to study consolidation, for guidance.

"Ultimately we have to find a way to work together," Jones said. "I stress if we don't change, time will pass us by."

To read the full report, go to penndot.gov and click on "transit" under the "doing business" section and then click on "information and reports."

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.