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How one rural county is expanding access to public transportation

A graphic shows plans for Meigs County's public transportation hub, which consists of two new buildings and a parking lot.
Meigs County Public Transit Facebook
Meigs County Public Transit broke ground on a new transportation hub in May. The facility will allow the county to expand its public transportation services.

Up until just a couple years ago, Meigs County in southeast Ohio didn’t offer public transport. Now, it’s building a transportation hub.

Since it started offering transit services in 2022, the county has seen ridership more than double.

“We're already above our 2023 numbers,” said Theresa Lavender, director of public transport and the county’s department of jobs and family services. “So the sustainability for ridership is there. The need for transportation is there.”

She says a transportation hub will allow the county to continue expanding its services.

“We want to make sure people can get to where they need to go,” Lavender said.

Public transport in rural Ohio

Ohio’s cities have buses and streetcars, but move to the countryside, and public transportation becomes a lot less accessible. According to research from Ohio State University, 83% of urban residents say they have access to transportation near their home, while just 11% of rural residents say the same.

“We get them to medical facilities. We get them to community events. We get them to the local senior citizens office, pharmacies, grocery stores and employment.”
Theresa Lavender, Meigs County Public Transit

25 Ohio counties have no public transit system. Prior to 2022, Meigs County was among them.

“We heard story after story about folks who weren’t able to leave their house,” said public transit administrator Adam Warden.

“We're really seeing folks that previously were not able to access the public in general for basic needs. They couldn't go to the grocery stores or make it to special appointments, like dialysis, because they took too long.”

How public transit helps

Since Meigs County started providing rides, it’s served more than 700 people. More than half are seniors.

“We get them to medical facilities,” Lavender said. “We get them to community events. We get them to the local senior citizens office, pharmacies, grocery stores and employment.”

The county has very few medical providers, so sometimes transit needs to go beyond county lines.

“That's a big hurdle we're overcoming,” Lavender said. “Getting people where they need, not only in the county, but outside the county because Meigs County is so rural and vast.”

Lavender expects the demand for public transit to continue rising.

“We are here to stay,” she said. “And we're really going to be able to grow and expand our services.”

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.