Wayne County now has a new way to get to work and other places. It is affordable. On October 4th, SARTA started to offer transportation to people who live in Wayne County for just $2.50 for a one-way ride.
Wayne County Transit (WCT) is a kind of bus service. You can ride them even if you do not have any money. The Wooster Community Action Group runs a public transit service called the first in Wayne County.
If you live anywhere in the county, you can take any bus for $2.50. You don’t need to live on a bus loop or find a way to get from your rural house to the bus stop. This is a curbside service.
If you use the WCT service, you can get to and from a new job for free. This is good for jobs in other counties. Pearce said that they wanted to give riders the chance to get better-paying jobs first. People will need a ride if they don’t have money.
Meeting rural mobility demands.
Wayne/Medina Community Action Agency won $100,000 in the Paradox Prize. After that, they started a pilot program to give vans to low-income people who need rides to work.
The Paradox Prize grant helped pay for vanpool services for people who need them. The services were $8 per ride, and participants got 20 free rides when they started a new job.
She said about half of the grant went to buying software and equipment that vanpool drivers can use. This is so they can find the fastest way to get around. The other half was spent on paying for trips by private providers, and this helped them generate enough money to continue driving stops through the subsidy.
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Pearce explained that people who live in rural areas also have a hard time with money. They might not be able to get to the city easily. That’s why Community Action Wayne/Medina has been running a bus in Wooster for several years. This helps people who work in the city and doesn’t cost too much money. We can use this model in other areas of Ohio, too!
“In Wayne County, for example, there is no public transit system. So if you don’t have a car or if you have a problem with getting around well, then it will be hard to get to good jobs and training resources. It can also be hard when faced with court mandates because you’ll not be able to do them without reliable transportation.”
This transportation challenge can hinder company growth. Patrick Le Denmat, the CEO of Speed North America, says that 50% of their workforce is in low-wage jobs and that on any given week, someone can’t make it to work because they have a flat tire or dead battery.
Path to sustainability
There was a pilot program for Wayne/Medina counties. COVID-19 made it hard to ride the vanpools. There were not enough riders, and social distancing policies made it even harder! It was also difficult to find drivers who could work for this program. The operators are struggling with driver shortages and money issues as well.
She said, “Yet we know people still need to get to work, even during the pandemic.” Pearce and her team partnered with SARTA and Wayne County commissioners in the summer of 2020 to find out what people wanted.
“We got a lot of responses,” Pearce said. “Hundreds of people responded to the survey and it showed that they needed four things: workplace access, parking, study spaces, and childcare.”
The remaining areas are things like people with disabilities can get rides to court-mandated appointments. Data helped the partners to get a $1.4 million grant from the Ohio Department of Transportation. They also introduced WCT. The public transportation agency SARTA picks up 20 people per day on average.
He said that he thinks there can be around 60-100 riders on the cars each day. A big county like this could have 20-plus cars. Wayne County officials want to know if they can keep the WCT system going. They are checking to see what people want and how much money there is. Some counties use old buses just for this service, but Stark County has a tax.
Pearce thinks that Wayne County will give money to the project because it is a good idea that will improve life for people in Wayne County.
Community Action Wayne/Medina has been able to adapt its program to changing market dynamics. The cost was $8 per ride for people who had access at work, but now the cost is only $2.50 for anyone.
“That’s a game-changer,” she said. “It makes it more possible for people to work and create lives.”