City bus fares could increase for first time in 32 years

Springfield public hearing is today on expanded service, rates.

The city of Springfield is also applying for a $1.4 million grant to replace transportation vehicles in its aging fleet.

Commissioners have not increased bus fares since 1984.

The service saw more than 258,000 daily riders last year and averages about 21,500 passengers per month on its 11 fixed routes.

The city and the Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee are hosting public meetings to discuss possible changes to the SCAT bus service at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. today at the City Hall Forum, 76 E. High St.

The meetings will cover several topics, including potential changes to routes, hours and fares. It will include a formal presentation and a question-and-answer and comment session.

City staff’s proposal includes changes to the fares, routes and hours, said Springfield Finance Director Mark Beckdahl. The fares cannot be made without approval from the City Commission, he said.

“We first need to get public feedback,” Beckdahl said. “If there’s anything we want to change, we would go back and put that in front of commissioners and let them have some feedback on it as well.”

The fares would increase from 75 cents to $1 per for regular riders and from 35 cents to 50 cents for elderly and disabled-eligible riders, Beckdahl said.

The bus currently operates 11 fixed routes from 6:40 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. Monday through Friday.

City staff analyzed two years worth of data and believes changes to routes will enhance services, including providing more hours, Beckdahl said.

“It will be an enhancement, allowing people to take the bus to work for an eight-hour day and allow them to get home from work,” Beckdahl said.

Depending on the route, the service may extend until 6:05 or 6:35, Beckdahl said. The proposal does not include weekend service, he said.

“We would love to do it, but we have to operate within the constraints for our budget,” Beckdahl said.

Tami Burton of Springfield rides the bus daily. She praised the efficiency of the service, but said it needs longer hours and weekend hours.

“We need more service,” she said. “We don’t have a taxi. I’m a disabled veteran. I have to walk everywhere I go. I need transportation to get back to doctor’s appointments and everything else.”

Without weekend bus service hours, Burton has a hard time making shopping trips, she said. She lives on Lagonda Avenue and has trouble walking the 15 blocks from her home to the East Main Street shopping corridor.

“I don’t get to go anywhere,” Burton said. “With my legs, I can only walk so many blocks and I can’t go any farther.”

An increased fare would be hard for many to cover given the lack of increase in payments for those with disabilities, Burton said.

“They’re fine where they are,” she said.

Springfield resident Allen Feimster said he would be willing to pay more if the service included weekend service and extended hours, he said.

The bus service should run on weekends to allow people who work on weekdays the opportunity to go shopping, Feimster said.

He would like to go to church on weekends, but can’t get their without the bus service because he has trouble walking and the church doesn’t provide transportation, he said.

“Usually I just stay home,” Feimster said.

The city is looking to replace a few of its older model buses as part of the grant application, Beckdahl said. The federal government allocates a certain amount of money for improvements in each state for smaller urbanized systems such as Springfield, he said.

“Ohio only has about $2.8 million, so getting what we’re asking for will be difficult,” Beckdahl said. “The competition will be pretty stiff.”

The city currently has 20 buses in its fleet, including nine light duty, six medium duty and five heavy duty, he said. They would look to replace 2004 and 2008 models, Beckdahl said.

Last year, the city commission approved a renewal of a $9.5 million contract with its bus provider to operate the SCAT service. The five-year contract, running through 2020, will cost the city about $200,000 annually. About $8.5 million of the five-year deal will be paid with money from the Federal Transit Administration and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The operating company, First Transit, manages about 20 employees and runs about 25 buses for the city.

The company has served as the city’s bus operator since July 2011. The city extended the contract by one year last November, according to public documents.

Springfield Bus Company previously ran the service for more than four decades, but the city opted to work with First Transit in 2011 to save money. The city requested proposals for its bus service in August, but First Transit was the only company to place a bid.

Springfield bus drivers are members of the Dayton-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1385. The union hasn’t spoken with the city or First Transit about the possible changes, but hopes the changes provide better service to the public riders, said Union President Glenn Salyer.

“Our job is to drive the buses where the people deem is necessary for the community,” he said. “If it means coming in earlier or staying out late, it’s just part of the job. Our job is to provide the service.”

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