Tuesday, May 11, 2010

State Funding Crisis: Current LANTA Operation and Future Growth in Jeopardy

Governor Edward Rendell held a special and extraordinary session with the General Assembly on Tuesday May 4 to address immediate and long-term shortfalls of transportation funding in Pennsylvania. “Failure to implement either the tolling measure on Interstate 80 or other revenue enhancements will have a direct effect on both capital and operating programs for public transit agencies across the state,” said Armand Greco, LANTA Executive Director.

The statewide implications include an immediate $484-million capital shortfall and an operating funding freeze.

When Act 44 was passed in 2007 it was designed to provide for a predictable, sustainable and growing source of revenue for both highways and public transportation systems throughout the Commonwealth. The revenue to properly fund Act 44 was predicated upon I-80 being converted to a toll road along with annual toll increases to the existing Pennsylvania Turnpike.

“Without the revenue that Act 44 envisioned Pennsylvania will continue to struggle to maintain its highways and bridges, and, most significantly to LANTA and its riders, public transportation systems will be in an ongoing funding crisis,” according to Greco.

Effective July 1, 2010, transit systems will lose $160 million annually, nearly eliminating the Act 44 capital program. The loss of capital funding presents serious problems for LANTA which risks losing almost seven million additional dollars of Federal capital funds because State capital funds are used to match federal dollars.

LANTA has several capital projects that will be impacted in the near future without adequate State capital funding. Among them are:

· City transit vehicle replacement
LANTA has been very attentive in meeting its capital needs. The number one capital priority is vehicle replacement. Older vehicles are subject to more frequent breakdowns and maintenance. By ensuring vehicles have not exceeded the recommended useful life, the Authority is able to keep maintenance costs lower. In addition, they are able to improve service quality by minimizing system failures. LANTA’s current 12-year capital plan includes $16,400,000 for vehicle replacements over the next three years.

· Fleet expansion
LANTA recently completed a year-long Regional Transportation Development Program (“Moving LANTA Forward”). The study, which included significant public input, recommended substantial service expansion in terms of service area and frequency. Without adequate State funding, the expansion will be not happen. Current 12-year capital plans include $6,000,000 for vehicle expansion over the next three years.

· Alternative fuel vehicles
LANTA is in the process of receiving delivery of 5 hybrid vehicles. These combination electric/diesel powered vehicles sharply reduce pollutants and provide improvement in fuel economy. Without additional capital funding, LANTA will be unable to proceed with plans to expand the purchase of alternative fuel vehicles. These vehicles, because they are new technology, cost about 60% more than regular diesel fleet vehicles. If there are funding constraints, lower cost, higher polluting vehicles will be purchased.

· Maintenance Facility Renovation/Expansion
LANTA is working with an engineering form to design a new state-of-the-art maintenance facility. The existing bus maintenance garage, built in 1953, is not adequate to service LANTA’s 78 vehicle fleet, plus the five hybrid buses that will arrive later this summer. Due to the maintenance garage size constraint it is necessary for some bus work to be completed in other areas of LANTA’s facility.

In addition to the capital funding shortfall, transit will not be afforded the growing source of operating funds promised in Act 44. This will certainly result in LANTA not being in the position to carry through with some, if not all, of the Moving LANTA Forward plans for service expansion and, even worse, may lead to service reductions.

“Pennsylvania needs a long-term transportation investment plan that supports a safe, growing and reliable transportation network that includes public transportation,” Greco said. “We are pleased that the Governor called for a special session of the legislature to address this issue,” he added.

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