ELYRIA — The Lorain County commissioners have slashed Lorain County Transit fares by more than half in what they described as a first step in efforts to improve the public transportation system for county residents.
Starting Dec. 1, the commissioners dropped the full fare from $4.10 to $2 with little fanfare. The move was in response to the results of a study conducted by consultant WSP USA over the last year.
“The consultants had been telling us the fare was too high, and we needed to lower it in order to get more people to participate,” Commissioner Matt Lundy said. “This is something we wanted to look at. By lowering the fare, we’ll continue to monitor it and see if it helps with ridership.”
Commissioner Ted Kalo said the change was possible to do without the board having to vote on it in a public meeting because it was to lower the fare.
He said the commissioners would have to hold public hearings and then vote before increasing fares or changing routes.
On Monday, Timothy Rosenberger, one of the consultants, gave a presentation during a public hearing of the results of the study the firm conducted. The presentation was similar to the one he gave to the commissioners during a meeting on Nov. 15.
Rosenberger outlined changes that could be made at no additional cost that would improve the efficiency of routes. He also detailed changes that could be made with an additional $1 million a year and others that could be made with an additional $1.7 million.
Those changes include doubling service frequency of all the current routes from every two hours to every hour. Other changes would include adding routes to Avon, more of Lorain and even commuter service to downtown Cleveland.
Rosenberger said implementing all of the proposed changes would cost the county around $2.8 million more a year. Where that money would come from, though, is another issue.
“We haven’t drilled down on that yet,” Lundy said. “The first thing was having this study put together and getting community feedback. The hope is that by putting a plan like this in place and determining what the community needs are, it will hopefully garner community support, something we haven’t been successful at in the past.”
The commissioners failed last November to pass a 0.25 percent sales tax increase that would have split around $10 million between county operations and Transit. After voters overwhelming rejected that measure, the commissioners imposed a 0.25 percent sales tax issue hike last December that went solely to county operations.
Kalo said despite the influx of new money, the commissioners don’t plan to use those funds to improve Transit.
“If we were going to do a dedicated revenue stream, it would have to be an additional tax,” Kalo said. “There’s no money in the sales tax increase that was implemented this year to do that type of change to Transit. With our current financials, there’s no revenue for that.”
Bill Harper, who serves on the board for MOVE Lorain County, which stands for Mobility & Opportunity for a Vibrant Economy, said he understands why the commissioners might be leery of funding the changes with the general fund.
“I understand the commissioners have had budget problems and they have certainly begun to pull themselves out of that,” Harper said. “I can understand why they’re reluctant to invest more than what’s presented here. They’re concerned about staying in the black. I also have a lot of empathy for people who have no way to get around and struggle.”
MOVE had pushed the commissioners last year to put a 0.25 percent sales tax increase devoted only to Transit on the ballot last year. When the commissioners put the split issue before voters, MOVE declined to support the effort.
Harper was in attendance at the presentation by Rosenberger on Monday. He said he can’t speak for the entire board, but he does appreciate the effort to look into expanding the service.
“It’s a step in the right direction, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said.
One issue Harper raised during the presentation was that the routes don’t address the needs of those living in areas dense with poverty. Harper said those residents would still have to walk several block in order to use the service.
Still, he said he was happy that the commissioners are working on the problem.
“I think the members (of MOVE) will be pleased that they’ve reduced the fares,” he said. “I think that’s a step in the right direction. The bottom line is we want to work with them to provide the mobility all Lorain County residents deserve.”