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Mon Valley transit agencies eye merger

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Monday, Dec. 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

The Mid-Mon Valley Transit Authority will begin a third decade of operation in 2014.

But whether it will be in existence for its 30th anniversary in 2015 could be determined in the coming year.

The authority, which provides transit services for 21 Valley communities, is actively involved in a study that could culminate in a merger of its agency with Washington County Transportation – also known as Washington County Rides – and the City of Washington Transit Authority.

The study is already more than a year in the making, but could be advanced in earnest throughout 2014, said Marc Roncone, executive director of MMVTA.

Phase I of the study was completed in November 2012. That looked at how much each of the three authorities spends to provide transit services and if each could realize savings with one unit.

“The savings realized could be used for additional services as well as for coordinating transportation countywide,” Roncone said of the savings uncovered in that study.

Phase II of the study began at the end of October and should be completed in mid-spring, Roncone said.

That will determine how the three transit providers could form one entity – either with one absorbing the other two or by forming one new authority.

Once that six-month study is completed, the next step will be to bring local and county leaders on board to make a decision on a possible merger.

How long will that stage take?

“It's hard to tell because we're going to get into political issues, money issues,” Roncone said.

Although any possible merger would include the three transit authorities located in Washington County, the goal for the MMVTA will still be to provide Valley wide service regardless of county lines.

“For the MMVTA, our goal is to sustain public transit long term in the Valley and, hopefully, improve fixed -route service,” Roncone said.

For example, Roncone noted that there is currently no transit service between the Valley and Washington, Pa.

The merger slao could help alleviate an ongoing problem – finding local share funding.

Transit providers are expected to receive 15 percent of their funding from the local communities they serve.

For years, MMVTA has received a waiver from that requirement because the Valley was considered a distressed area.

As a result, local communities served by MMVTA provide just 2 percent.

But that waiver was removed by the state in recent years.

Local communities are expected, over years, to increase their contributions until that local match is met.

That local match includes just operating costs. It does not take into consideration the cost of capital improvements, including new buses.

“We're hoping, if we come together, we might be able to find a way of taking the burden off these communities,” Roncone said.

He added there is a good chance that, if everything stays on track, the merger could take effect by early 2015.

“That could all be next year… or it could be years from now.”

But why is a merger important?

“It's really about sustaining transportation,” Roncone said.

“As three separate entities, we have a hard time raising the revenue to sustain not just the service, but the capital improvements.

“We need to make sure we have a plan so we can sustain the service long term.”

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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