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Lackawanna County Commissioners Pass Resolution Opposing Privatization Of Ride-share Programs

May 2, 2019

SCRANTON — Lackawanna County employee Robert Walsh fears the privatization of publicly run and funded shared-ride programs across the state may negatively affect a service he relies on every day.

Walsh, a systems support specialist in the county’s information technology department who also serves on the county’s disability action committee, uses an electric power chair to move and a forehead-mounted pointer to input commands into a computer he uses to speak. He also uses the County of Lackawanna Transit System’s shared-ride buses and vans to get where he needs to go.

Last June, the state General Assembly passed a bill that directed the state to seek private broker proposals to manage the Medicaid-funded part of shared rides. Gov. Tom Wolf signed that bill into law and the state is currently reviewing proposals.

Noting many low-income, disabled and elderly county residents rely on the shared-ride buses, Lackawanna County commissioners and transit officials on Wednesday warned against privatization.

The consequences of using a private broker would be far-reaching, including the loss of local control over the program and a possible 30% drop in ridership, COLTS Executive Director Robert Fiume said. The drop in ridership could mean reduced service and possible fare hikes, he said.

Fiume also noted that COLTS drivers know their passengers and do whatever they can to take care of them. Walsh said the county’s drivers are “very friendly,” and even cleared a path in the snow for his power chair in November so he could get into his home. Officials worry that personal touch and connection to riders could also be a casualty of privatization.

Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution opposing the privatization and vowed to submit the resolution to state lawmakers. Bills pending in the state General Assembly would postpone the move by a year for further study.

“This project should never be put in the private hands, and I say that as a private-sector business owner,” Commissioner Laureen Cummings said, arguing there’s no guarantee that private companies will remain in business and that the services are too important to take that risk. “This service needs to be in government control. I am not a government person, everybody knows that, but this is one area where we cannot jeopardize the residents of our community.”

Contact the writer : jhorvath@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9141; @jhorvathTT on Twitter