The Richland County Transit board is looking over the next 10 years to provide better workforce mobility through extended hours and weekend service, more convenient and reliable service with shorter wait and transfer times, and better connectivity to Mansfield including better access in Ontario and new connections in Lexington and Madison.
Jean Taddie, transit development manager for Richland County Regional Planning, and Christy Campoll, project manager with the transit consulting firm of RLS and Associates Inc. of Dayton, outlined the latest 10-year plan during the Richland County Commissioners regular meeting on Tuesday.
Campoll told the board that one of the main unmet needs identified during the year-long planning process was better service for people using RCT to get to work, particularly to the area of the Mansfield Industrial Park. “Right now it’s not possible to use RCT to get to work to a second or third-shift or any shift that has any weekend hours,” she said.Campoll said other needs include service to the U.S. 42 business corridor in Madison Township to help people who go to the library, Madison High School and the weekly stay hotels, and for the Ohio State University at Mansfield students who want better access to the Lexington-Springmill Road business corridor. A related finding is the need to reduce the wait times on fixed routes from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, particularly for riders who use multiple routes to get to places.
Campoll said the data gathering included market and demand analysis, operation and financial analyses of RCT, input from focus groups, and oversight committee meetings. More than half of the data gathering involved a public survey, followed by on-board surveys, a local employer survey and stakeholder interviews.
Campoll said some improvement strategies in progress include improved access to destinations and efficiency, transition from flag-down stops to a fixed bus stop system, adding same day service to Dial-A-Ride, an upgrade to fixed route software, account-based fare payment for Dial-A-Ride, expanded contract transportation service and developing funding partnerships and secure new government support. Officials also recently signed a contract with ETA Transit for new fixed route software.
“That would link not only with our own passenger app but also Google maps, Apple maps and Transit app and will provide efficiencies on the back end as well,” Taddie said. “We’ll be adding internal efficiencies (for data compiling and reporting) as well as better passenger access.”
Mid-plan strategies include adding on-demand zones in east Mansfield, Lexington and Bellville, pending new funding partnerships, conducting marketing and outreach for possible demand response services in new areas, and making a decision in 2029 on a long-term operating mode. Long-term alternatives include keeping the current network with new on-demand services, increased route frequency with new on-demand services, a “spine network’ with increased on-demand or 100% on-demand/demand response service using smaller mini buses or vans.
Annual operating cost estimates for the current service and long-term alternative services range from $3.6 million for maintaining the status quo to $9.3 million to increase route frequency with about 63% of the figures covered by federal funds. The increased frequency proposal is projected to increase ridership 128% over the estimated 2023 annual ridership of 140,447.
Campoll says any new services over the next six years will be added as funding allows, noting that the plan gives Taddie the opportunity to put prices on the options so the transit board can prioritize them. She said officials will be looking at a number of sources for the additional operating funds including new federal programs, current program partners, and agencies that have untapped funds for transportation
“We want to point out that even if we keep the system status quo and implement none of the strategies in the plan, RCT will still need more local match funding beyond what it receives today,” Campoll said. “We believe this plan provides a road map for the community to come together and build a stronger transit system.”
Taddie pointed out that in addition to operating dollars, transit officials will be looking to the federal government to pay for new vehicles and repairs to a roof at the RCT facility.
Could a tax levy be considered in the future?
Officials were asked if there is any discussion about authorizing or putting a tax levy on the ballot for dedicated funding for RCT current and future services.
County Administrator Andrew Keller said that while the commissioners are the taxing authority for the county, that issue has not been addressed. Taddie noted that RCT needs $1.4 million per year in addition to the $900,000 that comes from the county general fund to maintain the status quo and that a levy would provide funding on a more sustainable basis.
“I don’t see a levy on the ballot in 2024 but the conversations are worth having of what kind of sustainability we want to have for our transportation system and what will our county look like with Intel and being a supply chain for Intel and some of the big developments in Ohio,” Taddie said.
Intel has announced a $20 billion investment to build chip-manufacturing plants near Columbus.
Commissioners hold auction for farm land rental at Dayspring
In other business Tuesday, commissioners held an auction to rent 109.5 acres of farm land at Dayspring, the county’s assisted living facility. John McCarron was the winning bidder at $265 per acre for a three-year contract with two one-year renewal options.
The contract that expires at the end of this year is $195 per acre. The going agricultural lease rate is between $220 and $290 per acre.
The board also approved a $44,500 change order for the project to remodel the L2 level of the courthouse into space for the Clerk of Courts and approved contracts with two firms for master plan examiner services for the Building Department.
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