POMEROY — Thursday marked a big step in bringing public transportation to Meigs County.
While the first vehicles are not expected to be on the road until 2022, the funding to establish the system and begin the planning process has been secured.
“This will be a big thing for Meigs County. Transportation is always a barrier that comes up when discussing the needs of the area,” said Meigs County Department of Job and Family Services Director Chris Shank.
Shank explained that in early 2020 conversations were taking place with a small group of county officials and the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) when the topic of public transportation came up as it often does.
Shank and Commissioner Randy Smith, along with other representatives from the area made a trip to Perry County to meet with the Job and Family Services, which operates the public transportation system in that county.
In February, Meigs JFS sent a letter to ODOT which was an intent to apply for funding for 2021 to begin the process of a public transportation system.
In March, Shank said they were notified that there would be pilot money available for the remainder of 2020 through the CARES Act.
Paperwork approved on Thursday by the commissioners allows acceptance of the $90,797 in pilot program funding. Shank presented three resolutions to the Meigs County Commissioners for approval, accepting pilot project funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), and allowing JFS to work with ODOT on the project.
“The Commissioners are behind it and excited to see this come to the county,” said Shank.
President of the Commissioners Smith, during Thursday’s meeting, thanked Shank for his work on the project.
Smith noted that Meigs County Department of Job and Family Services in already a busy agency, and commended them for taking on the additional work of the transportation system for the county.
Shank emphasized that no county general funds or Department of Job and Family Services funds will be used for the transportation system. Funding will be through the grant, with the hope of making the transportation program become self sustaining.
With that funding, a Mobility Manager will be hired to be the “boots on the ground” person to coordinate with local agencies, schools, villages and others to update the Meigs County Coordinated Transportation Plan which will be the guiding document as the process moves forward. The goal is to have the updates completed by the end of 2020, but it could extend to no later than March 31, 2021.
While the 2020 funding is in place, Shank said they are currently finalizing the 2021 application which is due on May 27. A decision on that funding is expected in July.
Shank explained that they have a very good application in place to move forward with the 2021 funding which would include additional planning for the system.
This time next year they would be completing the 2022 funding application. It is that application which would include the purchase of vehicles, the hiring of drivers and the set up of a dispatching system.
Best case scenario, Shank explained, is that the first vehicles as part of the Meigs County Public Transportation System would roll out in early 2022.
The initial system would be an “on-demand” system where anyone can call and schedule a ride. The system will be open to anyone in Meigs County with the rides coordinated through dispatch.
Shank said they plan to reach out to other agencies and organizations in the county which have transportation contracts as part of their services in hopes to include them in the new system as well. This has been done in Perry County and has been a cost savings for the agencies involved, said Shank.
There will not be a fixed transportation route or designated stops when the system is launched, but that could become a reality down the road with stops set up in the county, in addition to the on-demand system.
“This will be good for economic growth in the county,” explained Theresa Lavender of OhioMeansJobs Meigs County. “Businesses, when looking for places to establish, look at things like public transportation which can help people get to an from work.”
Shank said that Perry County has been very helpful in providing information on the system and how it is run, and will be the model that Meigs County will be following.
In addition to Perry County JFS, Buckeye Hills Regional Council has been assisting and providing guidance over the past few months.
Shank said that they have learned a lot in the last five months about a public transportation system.
“It has been an education for us, but we have the staff to get through it (the process of starting the system),” said Shank.
“It is exciting to see the process starting,” said Lavender.
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