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Editorial: Get the lead out on transit consolidation

It's not unusual, in the public sector, for thousands of dollars to be poured into studies that go nowhere. The resulting list of recommendations may turn out to be costly, be politically unappealing, threaten someone's turf or wind up irrelevant by the time the analysis is complete.

A PennDOT study looking at the feasibility of closer ties among the midstate's transit authorities may be a welcome exception, however.

Its conclusion is clear: Consolidation would enhance service and save taxpayers $24 million over seven years. And the reception the report is receiving among some key players — county officials and the transit authorities themselves — is encouraging.

Transit authority directors note that rider demand is rising, while gaps remain in route coverage. At the same time, they and county commissioners are all too aware that federal mass transit dollars are shrinking.

As everyone knows, mass transit is expensive. But dependable, efficient transportation is important to a regional economy. For one thing, it can help employers address the widening skills gap they face when it comes to hiring, because commuting expenses become less of a factor for employees. That welder you need in Lancaster may be easier to bring on board from his home in Dauphin County at the wage you can afford to pay if he doesn't have to worry about vehicle maintenance, fuel, a limited bus schedule or even trying to sell his home.

A previous study undertaken in 2010 by Commuter Services of Pennsylvania also concluded the transit entities would benefit from closer ties, but it didn't get into consolidation.

But consolidation, the new study says, is just about the only way to reduce costs and free up money for services. By going from five transit authorities and two county departments to one regional entity, administrative staffing could be reduced by nearly a third. That's where most of the projected savings would be realized.

While acknowledging the truth of that finding, transit officials do caution that a number of issues need to be resolved before such a definitive move is taken. No county should wind up with a disproportionate share of service, for example, or of expenses.

Of course, the next step typically would be another study to see how these concerns can be addressed to everyone's satisfaction and to map out the details of what a single transit entity might look like.

That is an unacceptable delay. Instead, a team with specific guidelines, goals and delivery dates should get to work on making consolidation a reality. It's time to stop studying and start doing.

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