WRTA bus lines returning to Warren and Lordstown, Ohio

WRTA established temporary fixed routes in Warren with a state transit grant, but those routes ended on September 10 when funding ran out. The authority has taken another bite to restore service to the Warren area, but it is making some changes.

YOUNGSTOWN – The Western Reserve Transit Authority is restoring fixed-route temporary service to Warren with a new state subsidy – but this will be slightly different from the state-funded temporary routes that ended two weeks ago.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has awarded the authority $ 560,000 to establish four routes that are scheduled to begin the first week of December and end in November 2022, said Dean Harris, executive director of WRTA.

The authority had previously received $ 1.2 million under the same ODOT grant program to establish six routes serving Warren, but that service ended on September 10 due to lack of continued funding. At the time, transit officials proposed to Trumbull County commissioners to join WRTA – which could have meant a voting problem to impose a quarter-percent sales tax to fund the WRTA’s $ 6 million expansion in the county – but two of the three commissioners rejected the idea.

Of the previously proposed temporary routes, routes along Elm Road, Mahoning Avenue and Parkman Avenue are expected to return, Harris said.

The grant will also fund a new fixed route from Youngstown to Lordstown, specifically intended to serve the village’s Ultium Cells LLC battery manufacturing plant and TJX HomeGoods distribution center – a service requested by Ultium Cells executives, who seek to hire more workers from Youngstown and Warren, Harris said.

Warren City Councilor Cheryl Saffold also asked for a route to Lordstown, he said.

“We know it’s a growing area so now would be a good time to try it out and see if it works,” Harris said.

The hope is that the Lordstown Express will connect to an alternate route from Warren, he added.

WRTA officials expect the routes to run up to five times a day, but details are still being worked out. Harris expects WRTA to announce more information in the coming weeks.

The six Warren area routes proposed under the previous grant were then reduced to four, Harris said. These four routes averaged about 3,000 trips per month.

Speaking of the demand for fixed routes in Warren, Harris said he heard criticism from residents who often see WRTA buses carrying little or no passengers. Harris said he believes residents should view public transit in the same way as the roads they travel on.

“Sometimes they are very busy. Sometimes they are not. But you need it all the time because people are traveling at different times. People tend to get to work at the same time and travel on the same schedule, ”he said.

“I see it really differently. When you know who our passengers are and what their needs are; most of our traffic – they don’t have a car or have a low paying job, ”Harris continued. “It’s their lifeline for jobs or food.

“A lot of people are so used to driving that they don’t realize how addicted other people are. [public] transport.”

WRTA’s on-demand county-wide service in Trumbull County is expected to continue through the end of the year. The authority’s Warren Express, which runs from Youngstown to Warren, is already part of its permanent routes.

FREE RATES?

The WRTA board is expected to decide next month to make rides free permanently, starting January 1. The authority conducted two brief virtual hearings on its zero tariff proposal earlier this week.

According to the proposals, WRTA’s fares – $ 1.25 for adults, 60 cents for discounted passengers, and 75 cents for students – would be waived, along with day passes and day passes. system month. County-wide paratransit and on-demand transportation – the latter costing $ 3.50 and $ 2.50 for seniors – would also be free.

WRTA pays to print bus tickets and ask contractors to collect, count and deposit its money, so the authority actually only sees about half of its fare revenue, Harris said. In a year leading up to the pandemic, WRTA could expect to generate around $ 1 million from tariffs, but collection costs could reach $ 500,000, he told attendees on Tuesday.

WRTA temporarily instituted free fares last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and has since extended them until the end of this year.

“Our budget can handle the non-collection of tariffs. This is a small percentage of our income and we have a fairly solid income base in the [Mahoning County] sales tax that sustains us more than the tariff box, ”Harris said Tuesday.

It’s a tax of 25 cents on every $ 100 spent in the county, the proceeds of which goes directly to WRTA.

No fare could also mean more passengers, which in turn could increase the federal funding the transit system receives by up to 50% – although that probably wouldn’t fully explain the loss in fare revenue, a Harris noted.

The move could help make public transportation more accessible and tackle social inequalities, Harris said. The average WRTA runner earns between $ 12,000 and $ 20,000 a year.

“If you think of that as paying $ 1.25 for a one-way ticket or $ 3 for an all-day pass, they’re paying a big chunk of their finances for transportation,” he said Tuesday. “I hope this will encourage those who are not currently taking the bus to take the bus.”

None of the participants in Tuesday’s hearing expressed opposition to the proposal. Harris said he expects administrators to pass the measure next month.

To Harris’ knowledge, WRTA would become the first transportation authority in the state to offer free rides on a permanent basis, and one of the few nationwide. Mahoning questions last month. Improving bus destinations makes travel better anyway.

“We believe the cost to us… does not outweigh the benefits of providing better service to our Mahoning County residents,” Harris said Tuesday.

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