TAWC Could Take A Hit

Changes recommended in Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan for transportation funding in 2013-2014 could put the fixed route program of the Transit Authority of Warren County through “draconian cuts,” according to the authority’s director.

Authority Director John Aldrich brought the concerning news to the board during last Thursday afternoon meeting. While the plan might not ultimately be approved by the state General Assembly, TAWC faces large hurdles if it is.

“If you look at Warren County, our match is approximately $36,000,” he said. “The governor’s transportation plan is calling for an immediate local match going to 15 percent.”

For the authority, that would mean local match dollars, used to leverage state funding, would rise from $36,000 to $77,732, according to documentation prepared for the meeting.

“We’re having trouble getting it where we have it,” board member Cindy Jarzab said.

“We are having a tough time,” Aldrich said regarding acquiring matching funds. “$77,000 is probably not going to happen.”

Aldrich explained that the transportation plan calls for regionalization studies regarding public transit. “We will be doing those regardless of whether we like them or not,” he said, explaining that PennDOT will make recommendations following those studies.

If TAWC implements the recommendations, the match percentage will remain at 15. If it does not, the match could go up to 25 percent. Currently, TAWC raises 6.7 percent in matching funds. A 25 percent match would be $129,554.

Aldrich has taken the issue to the Northwest Regional Planning Commission during a meeting of transit managers and county commissioners. “We all sat around asking what was going to happen and what we’re going to do,” he said. “We’re all pretty much in the same boat.”

He added that another proposal in the transportation plan would require the match for capital improvements to increase from 3.3 percent to 20 percent. He explained that, on a bus purchase, the current local match is $45,000.

Aldrich said that when the fleet of buses must be replaced in 12 years, assuming the same bus costs then as now, local match would be $350,000.

“It’s very critical,” Aldrich said. “If you read through his plan, there is to be a lot more transit money supposedly, but I suppose you’ll see that go to the big systems.”

One potential solution that could allow the authority to overcome the local match issue is permission to use fares raised as local match dollars. “Several years ago, we couldn’t use ad revenues toward local match,” said Aldrich. “Then they said we could. I want to be able to use fare box revenue toward local match revenue.”

Approximately $50,000 is generated annually through fares. “Coupled with our partners, this would get us to $77,000 local match,” he added. Currently, revenue from fares can not be used as matching funds.

“If we hold steady providing a $35,000 match, and we are forced to go to a 15 percent match of our state dollars, we will generate approximately $300,000 less than we get right now,” he warned.

But without the ability to meet the match, Aldrich explained, “What you’d probably see (is) if you could operate the (fixed route) service with the draconian cuts.” Instead of service all day, restrictions to the prime commuting hours 6 to 9 a.m. and 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. is a possibility. Saturday service would also likely be discontinued under this scenario. “Historically, (Saturday) has not provided the ridership near the workdays,” he added.

Another wrench in TAWC’s funding is pending federal cuts as a result of sequestration. The fixed-route program received $250,000 annually in federal funding.

“We don’t know what our federal monies are going to be,” he said. “If we’re able to maintain the $250,000 and take the $300,000 (state) cut, we could probably provide this type of service, very limited,” Aldrich said.

“Small transit systems just don’t know what is going to happen,” Aldrich explained. “We may be one of those counties that is only providing shared-ride services….The state wants to see local transit systems put up or shut up” in regard to their level of commitment evidenced through local matching funds.

Transportation budget hearings in the state General Assembly will be held this week, Aldrich said.