Support sought for public transit upgrades

By Evan Goodenow -





That’s just how they roll.

Lorain County has just four public bus routes, all in Elyria and Lorain, and just six buses. However, bus service would sharply increase if a proposal to boost the county sales tax from 1.75 percent to 2 percent passes in November.

Public transit advocates say a lack of buses has made it difficult for people without cars to get to appointments, jobs, college classes, and to run errands. County commissioners are trying to get voters on board to get bus service in gear.

“We’re troubled by what we see,” commissioner Matt Lundy said in a July 20 meeting. “We certainly want an improved transit system but it always requires resources and revenue.”

If approved, the hike would raise about $9 million annually and be split between Lorain County Transit and the county’s general fund, which has been hurt by a lack of revenue since the Great Recession. LCT would add 10 routes with 16-hour per day service, seven days per week.

Amherst and Wellington had service eliminated in 2009. Oberlin has service twice per week, nine hours per day. Oberlin pays about $22 per hour for the service with riders calling for pickups rather than waiting at fixed routes.

The improvements would be partially paid with $4.8 million in Federal Transit Administration grant money, which commissioners said the county would become eligible for by increasing local spending. LCT would add 17 buses and its annual budget would increase from about $1.2 million to $9.3 million.

All but $50,000 of its budget comes from federal taxpayers, said Pam Novak, LCT’s chief financial officer.

Commissioners failed to convince the pro-public transit group Mobility & Opportunity for a Vibrant Economy to support a split. The group said a dedicated transit tax was the only way to make meaningful improvements.

Lundy has worked closely with the group since it formed early in 2015 and said he hopes some members will unofficially support it. “It may not be the ideal package they had hoped for but I think they will eventually see it as making great progress for the county,” he said.

Commissioners are also seeking support from local city and town councils although they don’t plan to formally ask for it.

John Dietrich, Amherst city council president, said his council rarely passes symbolic resolutions in support of county initiatives and is unlikely to do so for the proposed increase.

Nonetheless, Dietrich said Amherst would benefit from restored bus service. He said it’s been particularly difficult on elderly people and health care workers who treat them.

Dietrich said he’d personally support the hike if it returned buses to Amherst. “It’s a detriment if we don’t have it,” Dietrich said.

Wellington mayor Hans Schneider said he’d also support the increase — and ask village council members to pass a symbolic resolution for it — if buses return to Wellington.

“I would want to see specifics, not empty promises,” Schneider said.

Lundy said he can’t make guarantees but routes are likely to return to Wellington if the increase passes.

County officials are planning how improvements would be implemented with a $100,000 grant the county recently received from the FTA. Lundy said the plan probably won’t be completed until after the election.

It will include using software to plot efficient and effective routes and getting residents’ input at public meetings. “We need to maximize every dollar,” he said. “It will be demand-driven.”

Evan Goodenow can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @GoodenowNews on Twitter.




By Evan Goodenow