BARTA and Red Rose Transit Authority in Lancaster form task force to look at merging

April 29--BARTA and Red Rose Transit Authority in Lancaster are considering whether it makes sense to merge or continue the shared management pact they started in October.

The agencies' boards have formed a task force to find out whether joining into a single organization is feasible and what the result would look like, officials said Monday.

"Everybody needs to see what each one has; see what we're doing similar, what we're doing different; and how it could look under a combined system," said David W. Kilmer, executive director of both agencies.

There have been transit mergers in Pennsylvania, but never on such a large scale.

A combined Berks-Lancaster system would be the state's third-largest, behind Philadelphia's SEPTA and Pittsburgh's Port Authority of Allegheny County.

"You get better results," Kevin S. Barnhardt, Berks commissioner and vice chairman of BARTA's board, said of joining forces. "You get stronger."

The hope is that a combined agency could operate more efficiently, make improvements that would be harder on a smaller scale and maybe even expand routes to places between the agencies' service areas, such as the Cocalico area of northern Lancaster County.

Both agencies have said they'd only be interested in a merger if their quality of service can be maintained or improved, Kilmer said.

BARTA and Red Rose have been working together since they entered into a six-month contract for Red Rose to manage BARTA. At the time, BARTA was weighing its leadership options after the death of Dennis D. Louwerse, its longtime executive director.

The state agreed to fund most of the $60,000 trial.

BARTA's board voted Monday to extend that contract another three months while the merger is studied. It will pay Red Rose $14,200 per month.

In the meantime, the committee of a few members from each board will meet to hash out the details and report back to the boards. BARTA's designees left Monday's meeting with thick binders of reading material labeled "BARTA and RRTA Potential Merger."

It makes sense for the agencies to start looking at the move on their own before it becomes a state mandate, Barnhardt said.

Whether the bus systems would maintain their identities or rebrand is something that will have to be decided, he said. But questions about money and logistics need to be answered first.

"I think really it's going to be: Where are the financial savings? Where can we share and improve service areas?" Barnhardt said.

While other efforts to merge municipalities, police forces and school districts have been met with resistance, Barnhardt said he expects joining bus companies would be easier because it mostly affects riders, not entire communities.

"It impacts a good portion of our populations but it's not every single household," he said. "So it's probably an easier lift."

Contact Liam Migdail-Smith: 610-371-5022 or lsmith@readingeagle.com.

Copyright 2014 - Reading Eagle, Pa.

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