Cumberland County lawmakers are right to take their time weighing a proposal to consolidate mass-transit systems in Central Pennsylvania. While the potential for lower costs and better service is alluring, there’s a long road ahead before either is a reality. County commissioners are serving taxpayers well by studying the proposal in methodical phases.
PennDOT is pushing for consolidation of transit systems in Adams, Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties. Similar consolidation of transit systems elsewhere in the state have proven popular with riders, ultimately leading to more frequent service that can get people where they need to go more easily than before. A study suggests merging transit agencies would reduce costs by a stunning 24.5 percent, and reduce the workforce from 172 to 122 full-time employees. (Those savings likely would come from eliminating redundant layers of management, not bus drivers or mechanics.)
Like all studies, though, the numbers are far from final, and more homework needs to be done.
The county already has to grapple with Gov. Tom Corbett’s mandate that more money be spent on public transportation. Money spent on capital transit projects would shift more burden off of the state and onto counties. (The county’s share now is 3.33 percent. The governor wants that to jump to 20 percent. Ditto for operating match. The governor wants the county to cough up 20 percent of that expense, up from 15 percent.) Since the county’s main income source is property tax revenue, county taxpayers already are going to spend more on funding public transportation. How a larger, merged transit agency would change those formulas is unclear.
Fortunately, county leaders have time to do their homework. The next phase of the study is expected to take at least another year to complete.