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Cumberland vows legal action if CAT cuts bus service

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The battle between Cumberland County and Capital Area Transit has taken another angry turn, with threats of litigation and service cuts flying on Friday.

CAT interim manager Anthony Johnson told a PennLive reporter Thursday night that the transit agency could have to consider cutting service to the West Shore on July 1 and laying off nearly two dozen employees if Cumberland County doesn't commit to paying its share of funding to the Harrisburg-based transit system.

Cumberland officials fired back on Friday, saying they would take legal action, if necessary, to prevent that from happening.

"We won’t sit by and allow a mismanaged CAT to cut transit services to our citizens," county Commissioner Jim Hertzler stated.

Efforts to reach a CAT spokesman were not immediately successful Friday afternoon.

Background

CAT provides fixed-route bus services in Cumberland County, in addition to fixed-route and paratransit operations in Harrisburg and Dauphin County.

Cumberland county contributes approximately $300,000 in yearly subsidies to the bus system, but has argued that the county does not receive adequate service in response.

The commissioners have been pushing for greater "regionalization" of the midstate's various transit agencies, ideally under the York County-based Central Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (CPTA), which does business as rabbittransit.

Against the backdrop of that ongoing battle, Cumberland officials previously said they would look to withdraw from CAT’s fixed-route services effective July 1 if CAT had not made progress on consolidation.

The commissioners also have declined to release their full yearly contribution to CAT, citing that lack of progress.

CAT has responded that the lack of funding will create a shortfall for the agency's newly adopted $21 million budget for 2017-18 and that could result in cuts, which are expected to be discussed at a board meeting later this month.

Cumberland also has been critical of the bus system over its executive compensation levels. While CAT did take action in March to freeze a controversial pension program, county officials on Friday criticized the new budget for its 5 percent increase in spending and 8 percent reduction of services.

Cumberland's reply

County officials accused Johnson of making threats, saying talk of cuts is "a manufactured crisis" in response to Cumberland's representative voting against CAT's new budget.

Their statement said any cuts would be met with a three-pronged response:

• immediate legal action to enjoin CAT from taking any action that would jeopardize service in the county;

• exploration of possible legal actions against any individual(s) responsible for illegally terminating bus service in the county; and,

• assurances that alternative transportation would be made available to anyone impacted by CAT actions.

The commissioners also said they have set up a hotline at 717-240-7350, and an email address, busquestions@ccpa.net, to assist Cumberland commuters with questions about their public transportation options.

"This is a ham-fisted act of discrimination against the county by a small group of CAT officials to feather their nests and slow the progress towards transit regionalization," Commissioner Gary Eichelberger said.

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Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis

Roger DuPuis covers Cumberland County, health care, transportation, distribution, energy and environment. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at rdupuis@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @rogerdupuis2.

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