Transit official says franchise plan ‘endorsed by FTA report’

WARREN — A Trumbull County public transit official said a report from the Federal Transit Administration “pretty much endorses” a plan to bring county transportation services under an umbrella franchise, but the transit administrator has concerns.

The franchise plan would allow for one private sector transit company to operate a “public transit system in Trumbull County” and perform “transportation service delivery for the Trumbull County Department of Job and Family Services,” according to the FTA report.

A franchise would “substantially increase” the amount of match money the transit board could levy against grant money, increase the number of passengers given rides per hour and protect the county’s liability, said Michael Verich, mobility manager for the Trumbull County Transit board.

“The FTA report said follow the federal and state rules and laws and go for it; it’s what they have been telling us for a long time,” said Verich, who lobbied Ohio legislators to change the state law to allow for such a franchise.

But, the outgoing transit administrator and a coordinated plan prepared by an outside company for the transit system recommends against pursuing a franchise system.

Mark Hess, transit administrator, said he still trusts the coordinated plan that recommends against pursuing a franchise.

In addition, Hess said he is concerned the chosen contractor for the franchise would have a 10-year contract, which is “too long in my opinion,” and the amount of federal money the franchise could generate for the system is “overstated.”

“In reality, the Valley is losing population and that would offset any gain in passenger miles gained,” Hess said.

The franchise could put more funds in the transit board’s accounts, making it easier for the board to pay its provider on time, Verich said.

Provider Community Bus Services has to wait months to get paid by the transit board as it waits for the funds to be deposited from grant money. The FTA regulations call for payments to be made within 30 days of invoicing, according to the report.

The report recommends a plan be created to show how the operation would work, including the scope of service, how the franchise would be awarded and how the transit board would oversee its operation.

No financial figures have been presented.

Hess said he would need to see more of a plan to ensure the transit board and the franchise contractor could properly oversee transportation operations.

Verich said he has been talking to local providers to garner support, and he is sure the board will be able to present more information soon.