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Westmoreland County shared ride program sees drop in usage

| Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 11:21 p.m.

More than 174,000 reduced-fare trips have been taken by senior citizens and others under the Westmoreland County Transit Authority's paratransit program.

Officials have been pleased with the overall performance of the unified service, which links four social service-based transportation programs, but ridership is down during its first year under authority control.

“We still have some issues, but we've become much more efficient,” authority Executive Director Larry Morris said.

In July, the authority took over coordination and scheduling for the senior shared ride program as well as transportation for medical assistance patients and two programs for disabled riders.

Ridership for those programs has dipped by 9 percent, according to the authority's latest statistics made available last week.

Morris said ridership was off during the first month, as staff and customers learned the new scheduling system.

“Most of the declines, a lot of it, is due to the weather. From November through March, seniors just weren't riding,” Morris said.

In March, the authority provided nearly 18,000 paratransit rides, compared to about 21,500 rides on the system the previous year.

Ridership is expected to pick up in the last quarter of the fiscal year, which runs through June.

Signs of improvement have been seen. Officials said the growing pains from last fall have eased, as it is taking less time for passengers to schedule trips on the system.

Kinks are still being worked out, however.

Last week, the authority approved renegotiated contracts with two taxi companies that provide paratransit services in the northern and eastern sections of the county. Renegotiations were needed because of the large amount of miles driven by the companies, Morris said.

Overall ridership on the authority's fixed-route bus service climbed by 5 percent in March.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can bereached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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