Central Pennsylvania's six mass-transit systems should merge to save taxpayers money and increase service.
While it's rare for two such benefits to be available hand in hand, mass transit is one area where they have been proven to work.
Our region is served by six transportation systems. Each has its own mechanics. Each has its own marketing budget. While some connections between those systems exist, traveling between counties via mass transit requires an incredible amount of patience, planning and a most awkward juggling of multiple timetables.
The systems carry more than 10 million passengers annually at an annual combined cost exceeding $72 million.
Since mass transit is meant to serve those without cars — or those who choose, for economic or environmental reasons, not to use them — it’s logical that any effort that makes transportation more accessible be pursued. While these six systems appear to do a good job serving their respective home counties — a recent survey about Capital Area Transit, which serves Cumberland and Dauphin counties, showed a vast majority of people either are satisfied with the level of service it provides or have no opinion about it — it does little in the way of moving people from one job center to another. (Our hat’s off to anyone who could travel from, say, Reading to Carlisle via mass transit.)
For an area that heavily depends on commuting, our local economy might benefit from having a system in place that can carry people efficiently and inexpensively between cities.
Then there’s the finance side of the equation. The South Central Pennsylvania Public Transportation Regionalization Study, released in September 2012, said merging the agencies would cut costs 24.5 percent and reduce the administrative workforce from 173 to 122 full-time employees. While any job cuts are painful, the effect for taxpayers should be positive.
The regional transit model would follow in the footsteps of similar systems located in northern and southeastern Pennsylvania. PennDOT’s Bureau of Public Transportation could further ensure benefits from such a merger; the department could offer capital investments for service improvements or money to offset or delay fare increases.
Combining transit systems would trim costs, reduce overhead and eliminate redundancies. (A consultant’s dream scenario!)
It just happens that doing that also likely would help commuters. It’s time to aggressively pursue this option.