In a public meeting held Wednesday at the Highland County Administration Building in Hillsboro, Joe Adray of the Highland Area Rural Transportation System invited public comment on the need for rural public transportation for Highland County.
Adray is the HARTS mobility manager and said his agency’s initial goal is to bring a local public transportation system to Hillsboro and Greenfield, and to make it available at a low cost to all Highland County residents, which would be of particular benefit to the older and disabled population in the county, in addition to low income citizens.
He said talks about a low-cost countywide public transit system had been the subject of serious discussion for the past year and a half.
HARTS currently offers limited rides primarily for seniors, handicapped, and economically challenged residents, which are billed through Medicaid, but Adray said the new system would be available to everyone.
“The goal is to serve all the people of Highland County,” Adray said. “We want those people that haven’t been able to have dependable transportation to have it.”
Steve Hauser of the Highland County Community Action Agency Inc. said in his opinion, the proposed expansion of HARTS into the public transportation realm was extremely important, based on his experience with the public service agency.
“I deal with this every day, and all the people that call us with transportation needs is getting more and more each year,” Hauser said. “This is becoming more of a necessity for people like the elderly or handicapped who need everyday transportation to get from Hillsboro to Greenfield, or just locally to go shopping or to the pharmacy.”
The expansion would also serve the needs in the skilled nursing community, which according to Susan Michaelson, the administrator of Edgewood Manor in Greenfield, is reaching a critical level in terms of patient transportation.
“We’ve reached out to other providers like Buckeye Ambulance to help with our transport needs,” she said. “We’re fortunate that we can provide the vast majority of our transportation, and FRS is a tremendous help, but we can’t do it all.”
She said the proposed HARTS expansion would go a long way in helping with nursing homes’ discharge planning, taking residents to dialysis treatments or medical appointments, or simply making routine trips to the grocery, library or a restaurant.
As reported earlier this year in The Times-Gazette, Adray said a $20,000 grant to conduct a feasibility study had been received with the hope that the system could be up and running by late next year or the first quarter of 2021, pending approval from the Ohio Department of Transportation.
The grant came from the Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission and the study is being conducted by Carpenter Marty Transportation, which has offices in Cincinnati and Columbus.
He said that in the beginning, tentative plans are for “deviated loops” around Hillsboro and Greenfield twice a day, five days a week, plus trips to and from Hillsboro and Greenfield.
He described deviated loops as ones that would travel off the main route a short distance to pick up someone who could not easily make it to a designated stop, and that the route to or from Hillsboro and Greenfield would probably be more fixed.
The cost for a ride in the Hillsboro or Greenfield areas would possibly be $1, he said, and the cost of a round trip between the two towns could be between $2 and $2.50.
He said the when the system is eventually up and running, there are expansion plans of adding a route in the Rocky Fork Lake area, and that later on routes could go to areas like Sinking Spring, Lynchburg, Buford, Leesburg and New Vienna, with some of those routes possibly being combined.
HARTS is still in the process of working out the details, Adray said, adding that the Wednesday meeting is one of several planned through the fall that will be looking for input from the retail, manufacturing, government and public sectors.
John Gallagher, director of traffic and planning services for Carpenter Marty, said the study is nearing completion with the company reviewing transportation studies, looking at ridership information and the types of riders that will be served, and determining the exact goals of the program.
“We’ll have the feasibility study done in three or four months from now,” he said. “ODOT funding is on an annual funding cycle, and the funding cycle that would fund this service if it were to start in the next 12-month period will start very soon, and I doubt that we would have the necessary data in place as to how much it will cost to run this initial system in order to apply this year.”
Adray said HARTS was going to submit a letter of intent Wednesday, then pursue the process of getting ODOT approval with the possibility of implementing the program late next year or early in 2021.
“I think that this is one of the most important issues that we’ve had to deal with in Highland County,” Adray said. “It cannot be an agency-driven thing. It needs to be the public that gives us input and the general direction we need to go.”
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.