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Whether Butler Medical Transport can take county transportation services to the next level remains to be seen, but the awarding of a contract to the for-profit company will likely spell the end to the non-profit Carroll Area Transit Service.

CATS has been the provider of public transportation services to Carroll residents for more than 40 years. Over that time, it has struggled to find cost-effective ways to provide necessary services to residents, most often running at a budget deficit, but has also expanded services to include more areas of the county and more routes.

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Public transportation is always a costly endeavor, whether for big metropolitan areas or smaller communities. But providing reliable transportation alternatives to the elderly, disabled and those just needing to get around is essential.

When the county put out the call for contract proposals, it knew that the cost of public transportation would be going up. Ultimately, the bid from Butler came in less over the first two years of the five-year contract – the only years that were included in the proposals, with the remaining three years to be negotiated later.

While the non-profit CATS struggled with budgets over the years, it remained true to its mission "to provide safe, efficient, affordable, customer friendly community transportation to ensure mobility for the residents of Carroll County."

Butler will likely work hard to earn the trust of loyal CATS customers, but as a for-profit company it will also have to find ways to make a profit. Businesses do not survive in this world in they operate at a deficit.

If it isn't able to turn a profit, Butler will either have to increase the cost to the county as it negotiates the out years of the contract and subsequent contracts, or it may choose to not bid when the contract expires in five years. Either scenario would be bad for the county.

CATS, meanwhile, will have a difficult time staying in business without the contract. Whether it is around five years from now to try and regain the contract is questionable.

Regardless of those considerations, the reality is that the long association the county has had with CATS has pretty much come to a close with the awarding of the contract to Butler. We'll have to wait and see if that turns out to be a positive move for residents who have come to depend on the service as a way to get around.

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