Residents spoke out about possible changes to the Springfield City Area Transit Service, including fixed bus stops and better signage for inexperienced riders.
About 20 people attended a public meeting at the City Hall forum on Tuesday morning, including riders and bus drivers. A second meeting was scheduled for 6 p.m.
Commissioners have not increased bus fares since 1984. Any increase must be approved by city commission.
The city of Springfield and the Clark County-Springfield Transportation Coordinating Committee analyzed several years worth of data and held a focus group with riders and other interested citizens last year. The group proposed several changes to the service, including increased fares, longer hours and consolidated routes.
Springfield and the TCC will accept input from the public until Feb. 12, said TCC Transportation Planner Glen Massie. If approved, the changes could come in May, said Tiffany Ross, Springfield accounting and budget manager.
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 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. A 10-day ride pass will increase from $6 to $8, while the proposal also includes reducing the monthly passes from $55 to $50 for regular riders and from $50 to $35 for student riders.
The bus currently operates 11 fixed routes from 6:40 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The changes would reduce the number of routes to eight, but increase the hours of service to allow for people to take the bus to and from work. The new routes would reach several large employers, including Assurant Group and Dole, as well as education centers, such as Clark State Community College. The service will continue to include stops at the Upper Valley Mall and also has options for stops at future developments, such as Prime Ohio II.
Depending on the route, the service may extend until 6:05 or 6:40 p.m.
“You can leave work and catch that 5 p.m. or 5:10 p.m. bus and get to downtown and make it on more one bus before the end of the routes,” Ross said.
The proposal does not include weekend service due to budget constraints, but that’s not off the table at this point and could be revisited later this year, said Springfield Finance Director Mark Beckdahl.
“We’d love to be able to provide that, either once a month or every week, if possible,” Beckdahl said. “With our current budget situation, we cannot feasibly afford to do that right now.”
The city recently lost about $20,000 in funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation due to state cuts, Ross said.
It typically costs about $100 per bus per hour to run or about $75 per dial-a-ride van per hour on the weekends, Massie said.
“You would have to have people in the seats,” Massie said.
Local college students often struggle with how to use the service, especially where to join at certain routes using maps, said Cort Schneider, the director of access and student retention at Clark State, who also uses the Dial-A-Ride service as his main transportation to and from the office.
“There’s no clear way (to use the service),” Schneider said. “It’s really confusing.”
While he will pay more each day, the changes will allow Schneider to stay at the office until 5:15, rather than 4:45, he said.
“If it means we can have expanded service, I’m all for it,” Schneider said.
By adding fixed stops to the service, it could make it more efficient for drivers, said SCAT bus driver Kristy Downing. The system currently picks up riders on the corner of each block, meaning drivers are making several stops per trip.
“I have seen so many times where people from out of town who don’t have the Internet or a phone on them can’t call the office and they don’t know where to stand,” Downing said. “There are times when it’s not safe to stand on the curb.”
The current system will remain in place for the time being, Beckdahl said.
As part of the proposal, the city will also work to re-brand the SCAT service, Ross said, including a presence on the city’s new website, which is expected to be in operation next month. They’ll also update brochures and documentation, as well as possibly creating new names for the routes.
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.
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