Westmoreland Transit joins the “in-house” club

Westmoreland Transit joins the “in-house” club

After four decades the Westmoreland County Transit Authority (WCTA) will switch from being an owner/manager of public transit service to being an owner/manager/operator at the start of 2020. 

That change became possible due to an amendment to the WCTA charter approved by the county commissioners in June.  When the WCTA was created in the 1970s it was prohibited from directly operating service.  The amended charter now reads “The provision in the original Articles of Incorporation that the Authority shall not have the duties and power to operate transit service is deleted.”  The WCTA board approved the action at its October meeting.

According to a quote from the WCTA executive director, the total operating cost of the in-house operation is expected to be $12.2 million next year (the move will save $2.3 million over the next three years based on a quote from the WCTA fiscal officer compared to what it would be paying contractors). That’s a bit higher than the $10.1 million in operating expenses, all from purchased transportation, reported in 2017.   The last Act 44 performance review was in 2015, and all of WCTA’s criteria were found to be “in compliance” with the exception of operating cost per revenue hour ($114.41 to its peer group average of $82.24—Port Authority (PAAC) was also “at risk” on this indicator in its 2016 review). 

In the years when the PAAC flirted with contracting and the state studied regional transit in Southwest Pennsylvania we always looked to the WCTA as an alternative model of transit service that utilized competitive contracting.

Now bus and paratransit service will be carried out by WCTA employees with salaries and benefits negotiated through collective bargaining with the WCTA board.  About 150 employees will be hired by the start of next year—many may come from the firm the WCTA was contracting with, which just happens to have an expiring union labor agreement. 

Will negotiating with an authority vs. a private firm invite employees and their representatives to seek higher pay and benefits to approach that of the PAAC and other public agencies?