The Cambria County Transit Authority, like most transit providers across Pennsylvania, is breathing a little easier these days. But we wonder for how long.

For now, at least, things are a little more rosy for the 73 public transportation systems across Pennsylvania, including CamTran. They will share about $1 billion next year under legislation Gov. Ed Rendell signed recently.

CamTran, fortunately for its riders, is even a little better off than many others. Unlike systems in Altoona, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, CamTran avoided major service cuts and layoffs this year by planning ahead. Leaders in 2003 cut some minor routes and instituted a 5-cent annual rate increase.

The forethought is commendable.

We’re surprised sometimes that CamTran does as well as it does when you realize that a large percent of its customers either ride free or at a reduced rate. And the recently signed law expands that even further, extending the Persons with Disabilities Rural Transportation Program to Cambria, Somerset, Indiana and Westmoreland counties.

What that means is that handicapped people in those counties will be able to ride for one-eighth of current fares.

Just last week, CamTran announced that it was expanding free rides for seniors 65 and over – about 30 percent of its ridership – to include peak hours. Previously, they were allowed to ride free only during “nonpeak” hours.

According to CamTran’s Web site, children 6 and younger also ride free, and there are special discounts for teens and students.

There sure are a lot of exemptions and discounts, wouldn’t you agree?

Meanwhile, according to a recent Tribune-Demo-crat news report, ridership benchmarks worry authority Treasurer Frank Cammarata of Patton. Passenger counts have slipped this year, and news of pending FreightCar America layoffs spells more trouble.

CamTran’s mill shuttle contract with FreightCar has been financially beneficial.

It looks as if CamTran and its riders won’t be breathing easy for long.

Perhaps it’s time for government officials to rethink the outdated notion of subsidized public transportation.

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