TAWC’s Dilemma

An update on a consolidation transit study examining whether public transit services can be consolidated in a five-county region was provided to the Transit Authority of Warren County’s board of directors at their meeting Thursday afternoon.

TAWC Director John Aldrich said, according to the state, the authority’s local match requirement to leverage funds for the fixed-route bus system will stay at 15 percent as long as it participates. Failure to participate would have resulted a jump to 20 percent in local match.

“It’s important to note that this study is driven by dollars and penalized by dollars,” Aldrich said, emphasizing that if the study calls for consolidation and the local authority refuses, the local match will be bumped to 25 percent.

“We’re participating in the study,” Aldrich said. The authority’s involvement started with a field survey by PennDOT-hired consultants. “They asked us for a lot of information. They’re still asking us for information,” he noted, indicating that the five-county rural planning organization comprised of Warren, Forest, Venango, Clarion and Crawford counties agreed to participate as a group.

Aldrich said, “The study they’re conducting is basically quantitative, comparing what it would cost to regionalize to the current expenses of each of the transit systems.”

Phase one of the study will take six to eight months to complete. “If the consultants can show a savings or break even by regionalizing,” Aldrich said, the consultants will move to phase two of the study. The results of phase one should be completed by next April.

Consensus expressed at the meeting was in opposition to the possibility of regionalization, even though it is not yet clear what regionalization would look like. “There would be qualitative savings to stay as we are,” Aldrich said, adding that the consultants don’t seem to be factoring them into the study as much as they should.

Board Chairman Tom Hessley said the field study was “information gathering.”

“They were impressed with how lean we run here,” he noted. “Some things are best done at the local level and this is one of them.”

Hessley added that the regionalization possibility could disappear if Gov. Tom Corbett, the driving force for the study, is not re-elected in 2014.

“They feel consolidation will save money,” Aldrich said.

“We had to sign onto this to (ensure) our viability,” Hessley said, citing the local match increase for failure to participate. “We’ll just see where it goes.”