SIDNEY — Driverless cars, regular bus routes and ways to let people know about local options were among the ideas that flew thick and fast, Wednesday, Sept. 19, during a public forum about Shelby County transportation needs.
The Shelby County Transportation Planning Committee hosted the meeting in the offices of Safe Haven in order to evaluate the county’s Human Services Coordination Plan and discuss goals that have been met and goals still to reach.
Key stakeholders and interested area residents brainstormed about what public transportation might look like in Shelby County in the near future and farther down the road.
Committee Chairwoman Michelle Caserta, mobility manager of Catholic Social Services/Passport, told the group of about 20 people that the plan had been written in 2017 by the committee and was approved by the Ohio Department of Transportation. She explained that some of the goals delineated in the plan had been met, some were ongoing and others were yet to be addressed.
For most of the year since the plan was approved, feedback has come from surveys that have been completed by residents who need transportation to get to and from work. Wednesday’s meeting provided an opportunity for others to weigh in on what they think are gaps in what’s available in Shelby County.
“I’m losing my eyesight and won’t be able to drive,” said one participant.
“We live at Dorothy Love. We recognize the time is coming when we’ll need to be aware of what’s available,” said another.
Caserta noted that one goal was to educate the public about the plan and about what transportation options already exist. She reported that several articles have appeared in the Sidney Daily News and that a “Try the Transit Month” may be in the works for Occtober.
“We need to do more,” Caserta said, and asked for ideas of how to get the word out.
Among the suggestions were putting information on the closed-circuit television network at Ohio Living Dorothy Love to inform residents there, using social media, providing lists to employers of what options are available so that the employers can give copies to their job applicants and creating a monthly radio program about transportation.
Among the forum participants was a man who has recently become a Lyft driver. He described that Lyft is a lot like Uber. Would-be riders can load an application onto their cell phones and request a ride through the app.
That’s one of the ways transportation is expanding in Shelby County. Caserta said the plan recognizes that expansion is necessary, and that it is happening in small steps. The Shelby Public Transit has recently added hours to help area employees get to and from work.
Carpooling ventures are underway in big cities and could be used here, Caserta added.
“Enterprise has a ride-sharing program. They lease a van to industry. A driver picks up people who work there. Sometimes industries have subsidized that. Van-pooling is a more economical way to go and is a viable option for Shelby County,” she said.
Another program, called Go Ohio Commute, has riders noting online where they are and where they want to go.
“The program matches you up with someone going there,” Caserta said.
Dorothy Crusoe, of Community Housing, described a nonprofit organization in Miami County, Rides to Work, that is grant-funded. Drivers pick up riders at specified locations and take them to work. It has operated in Troy for five years and recently expanded into Piqua.
A discussion about how to bring human resource leaders into the conversation resulted in suggestions to engage the chamber of commerce in the effort and to tell employers that providing transportation could be a benefit that lessens worker turnover in their plants.
Besides getting to places of employment, there are riders who need to get to school. Shelby Public Transit transports many children who are not eligible to ride a school bus. Ohio law states that schools must provide transportation only to students who live at least 2 miles from a school. So students who live too far to walk but not far enough away to ride the bus are stuck if a parent can’t take them to school.
Other needs are for weekend and holiday transit and for rides, usually for medical appointments, to Lima, Dayton and Columbus. It would make sense, it was suggested, if Shelby Public Transit were taking someone to Columbus and someone from Urbana needed to go there, too, that the Shelby County driver pick up the Urbana passenger on the way.
“Counties are willing to work together, but the barrier is funding. When there are two funding sources, how do we share the cost between counties? That’s one of the biggest obstacles,” Caserta said. “Grants are out there. The challenge is finding a gatekeeper for the grants.”
As for a vision of the future, driverless cars might solve lots of problems, someone said. Others confessed to fearing them even while acknowledging that the cars are what the future is likely to bring.
Along with members of the public, organizations represented at the forum included the Shelby County commissioners, Save Haven, Shelby County Job and Family Services, Area Agency on Aging, Lyft, Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, Community Housing and Fair Haven.