Transportation merger negotiations are rolling forward in Brunswick.
Brunswick Service Director Pat McNamara brought a proposal for a Medina County Public Transit and Brunswick Transit Alternative merger to City Council’s committee-of-the whole meeting Monday night.
He said the city’s two bus routes are expected to stay the same under the proposal, but holiday hours and the price of rides would change.
Under the proposal, Brunswick would pay MCPT $45,000 annually. Transit director Mike Salamone said that matches what MCPT charges Medina and Wadsworth for bus service.
Under its current contract, Brunswick pays MCPT about $162,000 a year. That covers the cost of operations but does not include bus maintenance or administration, which is covered by Brunswick. Under a merger, MCPT would cover these costs.
“Right now we do put more than $45,000 toward bus operations and other maintenance, administrative and operational costs,” city Finance Director Todd Fischer said.
Fischer said the merger might affect grant funding for the salaries of several city employees. So, without a full analysis, he isn’t yet sure if the city would save or lose money.
Currently, the Brunswick Transit Alternative is covered in part by a yearly grant from the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority. In 2015, the city could receive up to $283,977 in grant funds. In addition to the yearly grant, the system was funded using the $34,000 raised by fares and advertising revenue in 2014. The city used another $63,000 in income tax revenue to fund the bus system.
McNamara said he isn’t sure if the $45,000 would come from the Regional Transit Authority grant or from other city funds.
McNamara said federal grants that are currently funding the Brunswick Transit Alternative have dropped over the past five years, making a merger necessary to maintain service.
“In terms of long-term sustainability, I think the smartest move is … merging,” McNamara said.
McNamara previously said that a merger with the county would give the Brunswick system more access to grants. The county can apply for federal funding streams that are unavailable to the city, he said.
Last year, the Brunswick Transit Alternative served 32,495 passengers, or about 104 passengers per day. The system has two routes, six days a week, including holidays.
Under the merger, buses no longer would run on holidays such as Christmas and Martin Luther King Day, McNamara said.
The rates for riding the bus, which McNamara said the city has held artificially low, are expected to rise under the proposal. A bus ride costs 50 cents. By the second year of a contract with the MCPT, rates would be $1 and by the third year rates would be $1.50. Senior citizens, who pay 25 cents, would ride free under the proposal, McNamara said. Any fare raises made after the third year would be discussed at a public meeting and voted on by county commissioners.
During previous council meetings, opponents raised concerns that, if the merger goes through, Brunswick would lose local control over the bus system, potentially resulting in fewer routes or less service.
McNamara said a representative will continue to sit on the Medina County Transit Consortium, a recommending body to MCPT made up of representatives from about 10 county organizations.
He said the proposed agreement does not prevent MCPT from cutting routes but he “does not anticipate” any cuts at least within the next few years.
“They can’t really change those (routes) because their funding is derived from those 5307 funds (federal grants),” McNamara said.
McNamara said if the merger goes through, MCPT plans to add one part-time supervisor, distribute pamphlets containing transit information and install a new telephone recording system to increase “public confidence” in its service.
The potential merger originally was slated to take place before the contract between the Brunswick Transit Alternative and MCPT expires at the end of December.
“The merger will not happen by the end of this year,” Salamone said.
Council agreed to give three readings to the contract proposal before voting.
Salamone said MCPT was the only bidder on a one-year contract calling for an approximately 18 percent increase above the $162,000, which was proposed by the city last month to avoid a lapse in service. Salamone added the contract includes a clause allowing either party to back out of the contract at anytime if the merger goes through.
McNamara, Salamone and county Administrator Scott Miller started drafting a proposal for the merger after council approved entering into negotiations at a Sept. 28 meeting.
The 251 Flyer, which runs between Cleveland and Brunswick, is under a contract with the Regional Transit Authority and won’t be affected by the potential merger.