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Overview of the Lowell Regional Transit Authority

Additional information about the transit authority and its responsibilities.

Table of Contents

Regional Transit Authorities

Chapter 161B of the Massachusetts General Laws established regional transit authorities (RTAs) to provide a public transportation system under the control of municipalities. Each RTA supports a number of communities (member communities) and is governed by an advisory board composed of the chief elected officials from those communities. Chapter 161B of the General Laws gives the Commonwealth certain oversight responsibilities, and it defines the process by which RTAs may be formed or expanded within the Commonwealth, as well as the duties, powers, and limitations of these RTAs. This law also outlines the membership of RTA advisory boards and their authority to appoint administrators, approve budgets, and approve significant changes in service fares. Currently, there is a network of 15 RTAs (12 urban and 3 rural) operating in the Commonwealth, in addition to the transit services provided by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). These RTAs serve a total of 262 cities, suburban municipalities, and rural communities outside the greater Boston area and provide transportation via buses and minibuses operated by private transit service companies. RTAs, which are locally controlled, manage their own operations but must hire private operating companies to provide their services in accordance with Chapter 161B of the General Laws.

Section 53 of Chapter 6C of the General Laws makes the Rail and Transit Division (RTD) of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation “responsible for overseeing, coordinating and planning all transit and rail matters throughout the commonwealth,” including intercity buses, the MBTA, and RTAs. RTD carries out its responsibility of providing and managing financial assistance for RTAs through its Community Transit Program Unit, which oversees the federal, state, and local programs that financially support RTAs. State appropriations for the 15 RTAs increased from approximately $70 million in fiscal year 2014 to approximately $80 million in fiscal years 2016 through 2018.

Lowell Regional Transit Authority

The Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) was established in September 1974 and reports to RTD under Chapter 25 of the Acts of 2009, “An Act Modernizing the Transportation Systems of the Commonwealth.” According to LRTA’s senior management, the agency’s mission is to increase the use of regional mass transit. An administrator is responsible for day-to-day administration of the agency, which had five full-time staff members during our audit period. LRTA’s operations are overseen by an advisory board made up of one member from each of the 14 communities1 the agency serves. The advisory board is responsible for hiring an administrator, setting fares, establishing service levels, and authorizing real-estate purchases. For fiscal years 2016 and 2017, LRTA contracted with McDonald Transit Associates, Inc. and MV Transportation, Inc. to provide fixed-route and demand-response2 transportation services, respectively, including maintenance and administrative functions. 

During our audit period, LRTA’s capital fund expenditures were $2,622,862 for fiscal year 2016 and $7,951,223 for fiscal year 2017. The table below shows the types of capital fund expenditures made by LRTA.
 

LRTA Capital Fund Expenditures

Type of Expenditure

Fiscal Year 2016

Fiscal Year 2017

Building Improvements

$2,063,785

$2,905,854

Service Equipment

335,454

60,542

Transit Equipment

161,573

4,984,827

Service Vehicles

62,050

0

Total

$2,622,862

$7,951,223

In fiscal years 2016 and 2017, LRTA received revenue from a variety of sources, including fares from riders and assistance from various federal, state, and local sources. The largest source of funding is state contract assistance,3 followed by local assessment4 payments, fare and terminal revenue, and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) grants. The table below shows the types of funding LRTA received during the audit period.

 

LRTA Operating Funding Sources

Type of Funding

Fiscal Year 2016

Fiscal Year 2017

State Contract Assistance

$3,608,306

$3,608,306

Local Assessments

2,678,790

2,778,960

Fare and Terminal Revenue

2,594,619

2,531,007

Federal Grants

2,252,157

2,441,536

Other Funds*

228,250

235,733

Total

$11,362,122

$11,595,542

*    Other funds include shuttle fare reimbursements.

 

During our audit period, LRTA’s operating costs were as follows.


LRTA Operating Expenses

Type of Expense

Fiscal Year 2016

Fiscal Year 2017

Transit Service

$9,443,896

$9,501,784

Other Operating Expenses

1,934,701

2,036,505

Depreciation

2,912,273

3,202,603

Total

$14,290,870

$14,740,892

Vehicle Fleet and Service Route Area

LRTA operates local fixed-route and demand-response services within the 282-square-mile Lowell area, serving a population of more than 300,000. It operates a network of 19 local transit routes, 11 of which are in Lowell, and 4 commuter routes. The local fixed-route service operates six days a week; weekday service runs from as early as 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., and Saturday service runs from 7:15 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The table below shows the number of revenue-producing and non-revenue-producing vehicles5 used at LRTA during fiscal years 2016 and 2017.

Number of LRTA Vehicles

Vehicle Type

Fiscal Year 2016

Fiscal Year 2017

Revenue-Producing

97

108

Non-Revenue-Producing

11

9

Total

108

117

Vehicle Maintenance

LRTA operates its administrative office and a maintenance facility in an approximately 70,000-square-foot building in Lowell. At the end of our audit period, LRTA had a total of 117 vehicles in its fleet. The table below shows the types and average ages of the vehicles in LRTA’s fleet during the audit period.

LRTA Vehicle Fleet Average Age

Make and Model

Vehicle Type

Vehicle Count

Average Age (Years)

Gillig Low Floor

Bus

57

7

Ford Transit

Paratransit Van

49

4

Ford F250

Truck

6

5

Ford E450

Minibus

2

5

GMC Sierra

Truck

2

12

Chevy Impala

Sedan

1

6

Total

 

117

 

Below are the actual mileage and maintenance costs per vehicle for fiscal year 2017.

 

 

LRTA Vehicle Mileage and Maintenance Expenses

Make and Model

Vehicle Count

Total Mileage

Labor Cost

Parts Cost

Total
Maintenance Cost

Average Maintenance Cost per Vehicle

Gillig Low Floor

57

1,292,425

$74,604

$96,998

$171,601*

$3,011

Ford Transit

49

738,907

58,898

27,153

86,051

$1,756

Ford F250

6

28,053

1,233

2,705

3,938

$656

Ford E450

2

13,637

725

66

791

$396

GMC Sierra

2

318

335

1,224

1,559

$779*

Chevy Impala

1

1,877

113

160

272*

$272

Total

117

2,075,217

$135,907*

$28,306

$264,213*

 

*    Discrepancies in totals are due to rounding.

FTA requires all RTAs to report to it any information related to their transit vehicle inventories or maintenance and repairs that they conduct. This information is included in FTA’s National Transit Database. At the time of our audit, LRTA was using the Ron Turley Associates, Inc. Fleet Management Software to document all of its vehicle asset and expense information and report it to FTA.

LRTA Community Programs

According to LRTA’s website,

The LRTA and [the University of Massachusetts Lowell] have entered into a six month partnership that will allow university students and faculty to ride the bus free of charge. [The university] will cover the cost of these rides.

All 18 routes, servicing fourteen communities throughout the Greater Lowell [area,] can be utilized during this pilot program.

The website also states, “LRTA Bus Tracker offers a comprehensive system for LRTA customers to receive real-time bus information from their computer, tablet and smart phone.” In addition, LRTA coordinates transportation for the councils on aging for several of its member communities.

1. The communities are Acton, Billerica, Carlisle, Chelmsford, Dracut, Dunstable, Groton, Lowell, Maynard, Pepperell, Tewksbury, Townsend, Tyngsborough, and Westford.

2. Demand-response transportation services are those that run on a flexible schedule and flexible routes based on the needs of RTA passengers with special needs.

3. Under Section 23 of Chapter 161B of the General Laws, the Commonwealth, through the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, can contract with an RTA to fund 50% of the net cost of the service the RTA provides. Known as state contract assistance, this funding is provided through the Commonwealth Transportation Fund and the Massachusetts Transportation Trust Fund.

4. Under Section 9 of Chapter 161B of the General Laws, annual local assessment payments are adjusted based on the “loss” (operating cost minus revenue) for each specific transit route and the activity and the share of that loss attributable to each town or city.

5. Non-revenue-producing vehicles are light-duty vehicles for temporary use by LRTA employees for agency-related business.

Date published: July 23, 2018
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