PA: BARTA Takes First Steps Toward Merger With Lancaster County Counterpart

July 29--BARTA took the first steps Monday toward merging with Lancaster County's Red Rose Transit Authority to form a new agency that would provide bus service to both Berks and Lancaster counties.

The agency's board approved a resolution expressing support for a merger and agreed to work out the logistics if Red Rose's board feels the same. Red Rose's board is holding a special meeting Thursday to consider the plan.

The move, even if approved by Red Rose, doesn't set a merger between the neighboring bus agencies in stone. But it does signal to the joint task force that the agencies created several months ago to consider consolidation that it is time to draft the agreements that would create the new agency.

Once those documents are created, the county commissioners of Berks and Lancaster would need to give their OK, the state and federal governments would have to sign off and both agencies' boards would have to dissolve the authorities and launch the new one.

"This is far from over at all," said BARTA board Chairman Kevin S. Barnhardt, also a Berks County commissioner. "This is going to be some pretty intense conversation."

The counties, he said, will need to negotiate how much each pays into the new agency and how the new authority is governed.

One BARTA board member, Michael Roeberg, voted against the merger resolution. He said Berks and Lancaster face different challenges and raised concerns over whether a joint agency would provide the necessary focus on Berks.

"Sometimes less is more and little is bigger," Roeberg said. "Maybe we need to spend our time and talk about and think about how we can improve Reading and Berks County."

By combining their administrations, the agencies expect to save at least $650,000 annually through reductions in staff and outside contracts. There would also be economy-of-scale saving when buying parts, fuel and other materials.

A PennDOT incentive would allow the counties to reduce their subsidies to the new agency for the first five years to offset the savings. After that, payments would resume and the agency would keep the savings.

Red Rose has been managing BARTA since October. The arrangement came as BARTA weighed its leadership options following the death of longtime director Dennis D. Louwerse a month earlier.

BARTA's board also voted Monday to extend that contract while the merger talks continue.

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

Copyright 2014 - Reading Eagle, Pa.

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