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Red Rose Transit Authority looks at merger, expanded routes

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Vehicles stop at Red Rose Transit Authority's Queen Street station in downtown Lancaster in January.
Vehicles stop at Red Rose Transit Authority's Queen Street station in downtown Lancaster in January. - (Photo / )

Red Rose Transit Authority Executive Director Dave Kilmer has been leading the Berks Area Regional Transportation Authority since his counterpart there died unexpectedly last year.

“I worked there for five years,” Kilmer said, explaining his familiarity with BARTA. The two authorities have also done some joint purchasing together over the years, and they shared an IT person for a while. Now, the boards of both authorities have voted to pursue further synergies in the form of an RRTA-BARTA merger.

Details of the deal still have to be worked out, then approved by the counties and others, but Kilmer said he doesn’t expect it would involve service or name changes on the buses of either authority. Instead, he said, it would focus on administrative efficiencies and other cost savings resulting from a larger combined operation, which are estimated at about $650,000 a year.

It would also tap into an incentive program of sorts.

Act 89 states that if there is a net savings identified and they consolidate, then local match can be reduced by that much for up to five years and they would still get the same amount of state funding since the match requirement would be waived,” said Jamie Legenos, a PennDOT spokeswoman.

“It’s an incentive for the counties to push for it, because they see the savings right away,” said Kilmer. The combined authority, by contrast, wouldn’t receive any immediate financial incentive to merge beyond the administrative efficiencies and savings on scale, but on year six, it would get a boost from the reinstated match requirement.

Kilmer said he’s aiming to have the merger in place by the beginning of 2015. Other projects on RRTA’s plate are as follows.

New places

The two biggest e-commerce fulfillment centers coming to Lancaster County — Nordstrom Inc. near Elizabethtown and Urban Outfitters Inc. near Gap — are both projected to create hundreds of jobs. But currently, RRTA doesn’t quite reach them.

“We’re just short on both of them,” Kilmer says of the current routes. However, the authority is working on plans to change that, which Kilmer said would probably be due even if the big employers weren’t moving in.

“They’re both areas that have been growing over the years. This is a good impetus to try to get it done,” Kilmer said of the route updates. Particularly in Gap, he said, “that area has been growing by leaps and bounds. We just haven’t had that big employer down there to really justify adding service.”

App-ening times

This past winter was a hard time to be in the transit business. When bad weather strikes, Kilmer says, the phones ring off the hook and 95 percent of the calls are “Where’s my bus?”

“People get frustrated,” he said. “Information you give them at the time may be good, but five minutes later something happens and the bus gets delayed again.” A new mobile app that RRTA and BARTA are scheduled to introduce by the end of the year won’t halt bad weather, but it will let smartphone users see bus locations in real time so they don’t have to wait outside in frigid conditions longer than necessary.

“I’m not going through another winter without having some technology that can tell us where the buses are,” Kilmer said. The new system is coming from Avail Technologies Inc. of State College, and it’s supposed to be accurate to within about 40 feet.

Over the river

“Census data says there are a large number of people commuting every day into Lancaster,” says Richard Farr, executive director of York Adams Transportation Authority, which does business as rabbittransit.

Rabittransit’s Route 12 runs eight times a day between York and Columbia, and RRTA’s Route 17 between Columbia and Lancaster runs 22 times a day. But given the number of people who cross the Susquehanna River every day for work — more than 1,400 from York, and more than 900 from Lancaster — the authorities are considering ways to improve the transit connection, potentially with an express route.

York County doesn’t have an Amtrak stop, Farr notes, so an expedited connection to the train station in Lancaster potentially could be popular. Other options might include a route from York directly to RRTA’s transit center or specific destinations.

The authorities are seeking input from residents of the two counties via an online survey that runs through Aug. 30. It asks respondents to plot their homes and workplaces on a map and indicate when they leave. It also asks if and where they would like to access a park-and-ride location and about other options, such as carpooling.

Kudos are due to the York County Planning Commission for its assistance with the survey, Farr said. This is the first time that rabbittransit has used this particular survey format, which he described as high-tech, user-friendly and enabling the authorities to crunch a lot of data quickly.

Since 1999, rabbittransit has been going through its routes systematically and considering express options, Farr said. Currently, the service is offered between York and Harrisburg, York and Northern Maryland, and Gettysburg and Harrisburg, with buses on those routes at about 80 percent capacity.

“I think the service is well-received by the community,” Farr said.

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