Commissioners Corner: January 2019 | Public Transit Within The County

We’ve found that citizens’ knowledge about Sullivan County’s public transportation system varies.  This article will get interested people up to date on Sullivan County’s transit system, plus update you about our efforts to improve and maintain services.  Currently the emphasis is on maintaining all services due to a recent change in state legislation.   

Sullivan County partners with neighboring Bradford and Tioga Counties in a transit authority, known as BeST.  The acronym BeST reflects the initials of all three counties, Sullivan being the S of course.  The operational management of the system is accomplished by River Valley Transit (RVT) of Williamsport, under the governance of a nine person Board (three people from each county).  BeST provides both “fixed route” and “shared ride” services in all three counties.  Before we go further it is important to understand the difference between these two services in Sullivan County. 

A fixed route is a bus or van that travels a predetermined route according to a published bus schedule.  To ride the bus you board where the bus stops.  This type of service has historically been limited in our county.  Current fixed route service exists Monday - Friday from Dushore to Towanda and back several times.  Additionally, there is a Friday only route which travels from Dushore to the Lycoming Mall area, including the Muncy YMCA upon request. 

Expanding fixed route services has been a priority for us and we are on the cusp of achieving that.  RVT has developed proposed expanded routes South from Dushore, through Mildred to Laporte, five days a week.  This potential expansion is possible because of RVT’s prudent management and the transit system’s solvent financial position.  Ironically, a proposed change to how shared ride services are provided statewide may threaten BeST’s finances and the expansion.  

Shared ride services entail a smaller vehicle, traveling to random destinations, but requires the rider to make reservations 24 hours in advance.  The van comes to you versus you going to a bus stop.  Any citizen can utilize this service but it is more expensive than a fixed route.  However, these vans provide critical transportation services for Persons with Disabilities (PWD), Seniors, and those on Medical Assistance (MA).  Persons riding under these programs pay little or no cost because their transportation is paid by various external funding sources.  A recent change in state law regarding how MA transportation will be delivered has us in defensive mode, along with other counties and transit providers across the state.

In June of 2018, as part of the state budget, the Department of Human Services (DHS) was instructed to create a “Broker” System for the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP).  What is a broker system and how does it differ from what BeST does now?  This is a complicated answer, but here is a simplified version for easy understanding. 

A Broker is an entity (not BeST) which would have a call center located somewhere within the middle region of Pennsylvania.  This middle region would contain 27 counties, of which Sullivan, Bradford, and Tioga are included.  MA riders would call this Broker to arrange transportation.  The Broker would be responsible for coordinating MATP transportation (not Seniors or PWD) within the region.  Currently BeST does this task for all three groups of consumers within our tri-county area.

A transition from our current local control and delivery to a Broker concerns us.  The Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association (PPTA), a transit lobbying organization, estimates a shift to a Broker model will cost Pennsylvania an additional $31.5 million.  This would outweigh the benefit of $15 million more in federal funding our law makers were told would be available should Pennsylvania use a Broker system.

More importantly, we’re concerned that removing MATP ridership and funding from our existing shared ride vans will diminish BeST’s ability to serve our most vulnerable citizens.  Furthermore, this transition could seriously undermine public transportation in rural communities, shared ride and fixed route alike.

The Commissioners have actively communicated our concerns to our state and federal representatives.  Furthermore, the Commissioners and RVT will continue to monitor the situation, work with our neighboring counties, and attempt to shape this issue to our citizens’ benefit.