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Westmoreland County Transit Authority to consider raising bus fare rate for paratransit participants |

Westmoreland County Transit Authority to consider raising bus fare rate for paratransit participants

Fares for senior and handicapped riders of the Westmoreland County Transit Authority paratransit system likely will increase this summer.

Executive Director Alan Blahovec said Thursday that the authority next month will consider a proposal for fare hikes for some of the longer rides offered in the subsidized program for people who use human service programs.

“The shorter trips will be the same, but they may have to change for the longer trips. That will be part of the budget,” Blahovec said. “The fare structure was designed so it pays for the program, and it hasn’t been close.”

The amount of the proposed fare hikes hasn’t been determined. Fares for the authority’s local and commuter bus service are not expected to change.

The paratransit program provides subsidized door-to-door rides for senior, handicapped passengers and other social service program participants.

Rides for low-income residents who qualify for medical assistance are free, while seniors who travel to medical appointments pay 65 cents to travel up to 5 miles. Seniors who travel more than 30 miles for any other purpose pay $7.50 per trip.

More than 800 paratransit rides are provided every day. The paratransit program operates with a $4.8 million budget. Three local taxi companies provide the rides.

That will change on July 1.

Transit authority board members last week awarded a three-year contract to National Express Transit Co. of Cincinnati, the company that also operates the commuter bus service for the agency.

Blahovec said the move to one transportation company will improve efficiency and save money. The three-year deal with National Express will cost the authority $14.2 million.

Divvying up the service among three local taxi companies would have cost about $16.1 million, according to Blahovec.

The paratransit system has been plagued by problems since the authority took over its operation two years ago. Before, the system was operated by separate human service programs.

Passengers have complained about difficulty in scheduling rides and the times rides are offered.

Blahovec said having one service provider should resolve some of those issues.

“We should see some efficiencies. I’m hoping to see a lot of efficiencies,” he said.

National Express, which previously operated paratransit programs in central Westmoreland County, will take over the full scope of the program July 1.

It will utilize seven vehicles owned by the authority and a dozen minibuses and vans that the agency expects to purchase this year.

The company’s fixed-route service, which it has operated for six years, will be up for bid next year.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].

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