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Rural public transportation identified as a need in a new regional transit report

Fayette County is one of the rural locations in the report that provides full public transportation.
Tyler Thompson
Fayette County is one of the rural locations in the report that provides full public transportation.

Public transportation is a crucial piece of infrastructure for many peoples’ daily needs in Central Ohio. A report released by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission in March identified rural counties as places with an urgent need for transit.

Busses are lined up outside the Community Action Center, which houses the transit unit
WOSU/Tyler Thompson
Busses are lined up outside the Community Action Center, which houses the transit unit

Fayette County Transportation is in Washington Court House; the county seat of about 14,000 people. Its fleet includes up to 10 buses and a few vans. The daily deviated route makes at least eight stops around the city, not including scheduled pickups.

Anyone can ride, and vehicles are equipped to help people with mobility issues.

Kelly Annan is a daily rider and uses an electric wheelchair. Annan uses the services for rides to work and out-of-town medical appointments.

“Public transportation for someone such as myself provides a sense of independence," Annan said. "To able to get around by themselves and not have to rely on somebody in a sense. You don’t want to limit a person’s independence by them not being able to get around.”

But in other rural counties, public transit is limited or non-existent.

The Regional Mobility Plan by MORPC covers the transportation needs and goals of nine counties: Delaware, Franklin, Fayette, Fairfield, Licking, Logan, Union, Madison and Pickaway. Each fall under region six in the Human Services Transportation Coordinating Regions by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Courtesy of MORPC

The metro planning group put together plans for Delaware and Franklin counties before. MORPC senior planner Lexi Patrella said reports in other counties existed at that level, but this is the first time one was done regionally.

“Our region is so unique. We have large urban, small urban, we have suburban communities and rural," Patrella said. "So, there was a lot to consider in the development of this work.”

MORPC’s transit report covers all demographics, but closely examines the needs for seniors, people with disabilities and those with fewer resources. Rural areas like Madison County were identified as places with urgent needs.

“They have significant need because they don’t have a true public transit provider," Patrella said.

The County’s Job and Family Services department is set up to help folks with Medicaid, only. In an email, director Robin Bruno said the county contracts with the Department of Disabilities and 3C Cab for these services.

The county is invoiced for transit bills by the agencies. Then it’s reimbursed by the federal government for all Medicaid eligible transportation. But if there is a no-show, the county foots the bill which costs local dollars.

It also provides gas cards for family and friends that provide the ride upon proof of appointment.

Other rural counties like Union provide services to seniors with disabilities and veterans through a system called Ucats. But anyone outside of those populations can’t use those services.

One way to help could be partnerships. Fayette County director of transit Joy Stanforth wants to work with Madison County to help provide public transportation.

Community Action Center in Washington Court
WOSU/Tyler Thompson
Community Action Center in Washington Court House

“We, for Sugar Creek, go through Madison County every day to pick people up because we go up to the north side of Columbus every day, two shifts, to bring people back and forth to work,” Stanforth said.

Fayette county also has its share of transit struggles. Stanforth said they’re down a half dozen drivers and have increased pay to compete. The other is awareness of services. Stanford said they just secured grant money for bus stop shelters to help get the word out.

“They don’t realize it’s for everybody. Hopefully the bus shelters help with that," she said. "Especially with the price of gas going up. I think we’ll see an influx of need for ridership. And I hope more people out there looking for a job have the desire to be a driver.”

In MORPC’s report, Logan County also cited a lack of awareness of public transit options. Services fall under Logan County Rides. RTC Transportation handles transit to all people local to Logan. L&L Transit handles all transportation outside of the county. Both also provide services for people with Medicaid.

Kelly Herd uses the Fayette County service daily. Even with any shortcomings, she’s happy it’s there. She rides the bus for work, the grocery store, medical appointments, or the weekend farmer’s market.

“I am thankful for it. It helps me keep my job," Herd said. "Especially being in a rural area, we’re really lucky to have it. For the population that we have, there’s a definite need for it and I’m proof positive for it myself.”

MORPC will continue to work with the counties and identify any gaps in its report.

Tyler Thompson was a reporter and on-air host for 89.7 NPR News. Thompson, originally from northeast Ohio, has spent the last three years working as a Morning Edition host and reporter at NPR member station KDLG Public Radio and reporter at the Bristol Bay Times Newspaper in Dillingham, Alaska.