June 29, 2016

Intermittent clouds

County transit passengers could be left at curb

A change in how Ohio classifies Medina County Public Transit threatens to leave some of its most dependent riders stranded next year.

County transit officials have told the Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities that there won’t be bus transportation for as many as 100 developmentally disabled clients who work at the Achievement Center in Granger Township or who need to go to events, such as the Special Olympics.

Board officials say they are working to find a solution, but they warn there are no easy answers.

The cutbacks stem from the Ohio Department of Transportation’s decision to reclassify Medina County Public Transit as an Urban Transit System, beginning in 2014.

While urban systems receive federal funding for equipment and facilities, they get far less to subsidize daily operations.

The upshot is that the county transit system will receive $600,000 less next year. That will require cuts to avoid a projected shortfall of about $1 million — half of the system’s annual operating budget.

The county system offers some fixed bus routes. But most riders use the on-demand, curb-to-curb service that allows residents to phone for pick-ups and drop-offs at specific locations, such as doctor’s offices and workplaces.

The loss of funding will force the county to cut the fixed bus routes from 23 to 15 and eliminate nearly all of its on-demand service, which most of the developmentally disabled rely on.

For many it’s their only form of transportation.

“About 100 consumers will lose transportation,” said Greg LaForme, superintendent for the county’s programs for the developmentally disabled.

LaForme said the on-demand system is especially important for physically handicapped, elderly and kidney dialysis patients.

He said his board has a small number of buses and utility vans, but the cost of expanding that fleet would be “very expensive.”

Over the past three years, LaForme said, the Board has paid $104,000 per year to contract with Medina County Public Transit. He said he hopes that any solution they find will come in equal to or under that cost.

LaForme predicted that any solution would involve help and funding from several sources.

County Commissioner Stephen Hambley agreed.

“We’re leaving no stone unturned nor grant unresearched,” he said.

“We’re lobbying our state representatives to assist us in appealing to ODOT to access some of those rural transit dollars, and asking Medina city and Wadsworth city for matches on the grants.”

He said the commitments from those cities have reduced the budget gap to roughly $300,000. Hambley protested the state’s reclassification of Medina as an urban system.

He said the change stemmed from population growth found in the 2010 census that resulted in Medina County to be designated an urban transportation area.

Hambley said the state’s ruling puts the county public transit system in unfair competition for the federal dollars with much larger systems, including Cuyahoga County’s RTA, LakeTran and Akron Metro.

He said the county also was hurt by another state ruling: The Federal Transit Authority allows urban transit systems in rural areas to access both urban and rural money, but the Ohio Department of Transportation has ruled they can only access one funding source.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.