The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

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December 11, 2013

Transportation law’s impact unknown

MERCER COUNTY — Although it’s clear Pennsylvania public transportation agencies will be getting more money under a recently passed law that will increase gas taxes and other vehicle-related fees, agencies are still waiting for details.

Agencies want to know how much they might get, when they might get it and whether there will be any strings attached to the money, said Thomas R. Tulip, executive director of Mercer County Regional Council of Governments, which runs Shenango Valley Shuttle Service and Mercer County Community Transit.

“The devil’s in the details and it’s not all out, yet,” Tulip said.

A conference call with public transportation agencies that was to be held Monday was canceled because PennDOT did not have enough information, he said.

Tulip said it could be spring until details are worked out, although he hopes to know sooner.

Any new money would be welcome.

“Our revenue has been flat for so long that we haven’t been able to fend off inflationary increases,” he said of shuttle, the fixed-route bus system that operates in Sharon, Hermitage, Farrell, Wheatland, Sharpsville and, starting this year, West Middlesex.

“The ideal hope is that it will stabilize it,” Tulip said of state funding, keeping his fingers crossed that there will be annual increases in revenues.

Under the split of federal money shuttle shares with the bus agencies in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, COG will get $686,786 this year, the most it has ever gotten, although that money can only be used for capital purchases, such as new buses, and some maintenance expenses. It cannot be used for operations.

Even with new state money, which agencies hope they can use freely for operations, shuttle still is charged with increasing its local share, with the eventual requirement that it come up with local funds to match 15 percent of the state subsidy.

The local communities – except for West Middlesex – had agreed to increase their assessments by 5 percent a year through 2016. In 2016, shuttle still will be short of the 15-percent goal and officials will have to come up with a new plan to get there, Tulip said. For now, PennDOT is happy with the agreement that is in place, he said.

Mercer County has helped by allowing all of the money it contributes to public transportation – $27,000 a year – to go toward the local match. While that means steering some money away from Mercer County Community Transit, Tulip said it shouldn’t hurt the sister agency’s bottom line, which is benefiting from a rate hike imposed July 1.

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