Westmoreland County Transit Authority to buy 12 minibuses
The Westmoreland County Transit Authority will purchase 12 vehicles to help correct inefficiencies that have plagued the agency’s paratransit program since its takeover nearly two years ago.
A $600,000 state grant will be used to buy the seven-seat minibuses that can hold up to two wheelchairs. The vehicles will be given to private transportation companies that serve as contractors for the paratransit system.
“There’s a ton of things that have to change with the paratransit program,” said authority Executive Director Alan Blahovec.
The authority took over all paratransit operations, which had been overseen by individual human service programs, in mid-2013. The free and subsidized rides for low-income and elderly passengers are now dispatched through the authority but operated by three private cab companies throughout the county.
After the county takeover, riders complained about the time it took to schedule trips in the program. The authority spent months attempting to integrate new computer software to monitor the program.
Nearly two years later, the problems continue as officials struggle to fill vehicles and operate an efficient system.
“It’s frustrating for everyone,” said authority board member Rosie Wolford.
The authority has sought new proposals from private companies to provide the rides. The proposals will be reviewed next month and could be awarded in May.
Blahovec said the revised proposals could help to save money and assist scheduling to make the system more efficient.
The authority schedules about 1,200 paratransit rides every day.
The private companies use mainly their own vehicles. But last year, the authority bought seven minibuses, using a state grant, to subsidize their efforts.
Byers Cab Co. in New Kensington returned two of the buses to the authority, saying they were too expensive to operate and too large to negotiate some of the narrow streets in its service area.
“We didn’t feel they were being utilized properly,” said Byers owner Julie Martin.
The new buses that the authority voted to purchase this week will be slightly smaller, Blahovec said.
But the authority debated whether to accept the grant money.
Board member Nelson Meyer criticized the purchase, in which PennDOT required a specific bus be purchased from one predetermined builder authorized by the state.
“They would be better off rejecting these (vehicles),” Meyer said.
In the end, the board voted to accept the grant and buy the vehicles.
“If we don’t take the money and the vehicles, we’re not getting any more money,” said board Chairman Frank Tosto.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].