A ceremonial day was held late last week to mark the largest consolidation of transit authorities in Pennsylvania – one that could save tax payers about $4.5 million over five years.
For months, Berks Area Regional Transit Authority of Berks County had been considering a merger with Red Rose Transit Authority in Lancaster County.
After last month’s back-to-back unanimous votes by Lancaster County and Berks County commissioners, respectively, the merger – South Central Transit Authority – will become official Jan. 1.
The state Department of Transportation, along with county officials and both transits, came together to celebrate the merge, which includes the consolidation of the administrative functions for the two systems and the retaining of one executive director for the services.
“This consolidation effort is bringing significant savings to local taxpayers and will mean service improvements for these transit riders,” said Toby Fauver, PennDOT deputy secretary for multimodal transportation. “I applaud Berks and Lancaster counties for their leadership and serving as an example for transit providers across the state.”
Because of consolidation incentives through Act 89, the state’s transportation plan, much of the savings will be in local matching funds. Over five years, Berks County will save $2,804,169 in total and Lancaster County will save $1,726,081, according to PennDOT.
Because of the consolidation’s cost savings, the providers are considering adding Sunday service in Berks County and extending service to Route 41 in Lancaster County’s Gap area to reach the newly expanded Urban Outfitters and the Gap Area Shopping Center.
“This effort is a prime example of the mutual cooperation that our residents should expect from their elected and appointed officials to find real savings as budgets become tighter,” said Kevin Barnhardt, chair of the BARTA Board and a Berks County commissioner. “This cooperative spirit is a result of PennDOT’s efforts to encourage regional consolidation and assist in the financing of such endeavors.”
As a result of limited financial resources, transit agencies are required to explore more innovative ways of conducting business without the loss of critical services.
“This merger of two contiguous transit systems is a major victory. Lancaster and Berks County governments will both realize significant cost savings, the overall cost of transit will decline, and riders will not experience any decline in service,” said Red Rose Transit Board Chairman Jeffrey Wibberley.
Through the consolidation of management and administrative services, all drivers and mechanics will remain employees of the existing authorities. BARTA and RRTA will contract with the new South Central Transit Authority for management and administrative services, and a new board will be created, including five members from each county.