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RabbitTransit will provide management services to Capital Area Transit come the end of January, under an agreement approved Thursday by CAT’s board.

A York-based public transit agency, RabbitTransit will provide administrative functions to CAT, which is joint operation of Dauphin and Cumberland counties, and the City of Harrisburg.

The decision is a significant step forward toward regional integration in public transit, and was greeted heartily by Cumberland County officials, who have been particularly bullish on consolidating CAT with other agencies.

“We fully support and thank the CAT board, which today unanimously took steps toward a regionalized, consolidated transportation system,” the Cumberland County commissioners said in a joint statement. “This is the first significant step toward improving transit system efficiencies and transit services for our constituents throughout the region.”

Since the departure of former CAT General Manager Bill Jones in early 2017, and the attrition of administrative staff, CAT has been managed by McDonald Transit Associates, a consulting company based in Texas.

Deal rejected

In August, the majority of CAT’s board had rejected the idea of immediately accepting a management deal with RabbitTransit, to the vocal objection of the Cumberland County Commissioners, instead extending their agreement with McDonald and beginning a competitive search process for a new management deal.

Last month, the board decided to put the search on hiatus and begin negotiating a contract with RabbitTransit, according to acting CAT General Manager Tom Reynolds.

Reynolds, an employee of McDonald, will stay in Harrisburg through the end of this month until the transition to RabbitTransit is complete. RabbitTransit’s contract is for two years.

“The desire is to have RabbitTransit work with CAT and further develop the regionalization concept that everyone seems to agree is the best way forward,” Reynolds said.

Rift develops

The past two years have seen a rift between Cumberland County and CAT’s two other government partners, Dauphin County and the City of Harrisburg.

The Cumberland County commissioners have criticized CAT’s inefficiencies and service disruptions, asserting that an aggressive merger of the organization with a more cost-efficient agency was needed.

While agreeing that regionalization should be pursued, Harrisburg and Dauphin officials have been more cautious to preserve CAT’s independence in any consolidation efforts.

PennDOT, which funds the bulk of CAT’s capital costs, has given considerable financial incentives for local public transit groups to consolidate, offering to reduce local governments’ required payments if they take steps to combine their administrative overhead.

A regional merger of CAT would save its funding partners a projected $5.2 million over the next five years, due to PennDOT funding incentives.

CAT is also dealing with cuts or consolidations of routes, as a result of an 8 percent service reduction needed to balance its budget.

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