The Highland Area Rural Transportation System (HARTS) committee announced at their quarterly meeting on Tuesday that they expect to have routes in and between Greenfield and Hillsboro in place by March 2.
FRS Director of Transportation Damon Lucas said at the meeting that when the service begins in March, there will be a vehicle running a route in Hillsboro, a vehicle running a route in Greenfield, and a vehicle traveling along SR 138 to connect the two routes. The routes will be active from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. In the future they hope to expand those hours.
Lucas said they’ve identified points of interest in Hillsboro, which are locations in a vehicle will stop to pick up and drop off riders. These points of interests are the senior center, Highland District Hospital, Job and Family Services, Southern State Community College, the jail, the homeless shelter, apartment complexes on Harry Sauner Road, Walmart, Kroger, and apartment complexes on North West Street. Lucas said the Hillsboro vehicle will stop at SR 138 near Wendy’s to pick up and drop off riders traveling between Greenfield and Hillsboro. There will also be a stop in the center of town on High Street.
Lucas said they’re considering adding a stop at the North High Business Center, where Highland County Community Action is located, and the library, though Lucas isn’t sure how much interest riders will have in a regular library stop. Lucas said they’re working to keep the time it takes to complete the route as low as possible.
“The reason why we didn’t really throw the library in was because of the time the person’s going to be on the bus,” Lucas said. “Right now, the route’s tacking out — with traffic — right around a little less than two hours, and I think that’s a lot to ride on a bus. We’re trying to figure those out and tweak the wait times to try to speed it along.”
Highland County Mobility Manager Joe Adray added, “If they call in and let us know, whether it’s demand response or if we have to go off route, rather than someone riding two hours, we might be able to get them up to the library, drop them off, and get back on the route. That makes scheduling a little bit more difficult, but if you have someone who lives a block away from the stop, and they don’t walk well or they just can’t get out and walk to the bus stop, if they call and let us know, the regular route bus will come and pick you up.”
Lucas said that during the fair and other large events like the Festival of Bells, they plan to have a special route.
Adray and Lucas are working with Highland County Community Action Executive Director Julia Wise to identify points of interest for the Greenfield route. They said they expect to have those points by next week.
Community members present during the meeting also suggested the YMCA and daycare locations.
In the future, Lucas said they want to work with employers to provide transportation for their employees.
Lucas said fare rates will be finalized by Jan. 21, but on Tuesday, he estimated a round trip within the Hillsboro or Greenfield deviated routes will cost riders $2. Fare for the routes will be deposited in a fare box. Lucas said HARTS card balances will be honored, though the HARTS card will be discontinued as the transportation system fare is less expensive. He added that they’ll look into creating a pass-like system for the lower fare.
However, riders will still be able to get services similar to what they received with the HARTS card through demand response, which will allow riders to schedule a pickup or drop-off located anywhere within Highland County, though they must schedule demand response trips at least 24 hours in advance, according to Lucas. He estimated that the cost for demand response rides will range from $2 to $4, which riders will have to pay in exact change when they’re picked up.
Direct response rides don’t have to be used for medical-related trips, Lucas said. Adray added, “If you want to call and ride down to the local bar to have a few beers, we’re going to take you the same as if you were going to go to the doctor.”
Demand response operating hours will differ from the deviated route’s operating hours.
“We haven’t set a time on the demand response yet. It’ll be more extended hours than the route. Currently, we handle demand response hours between 4 a.m. and 10 p.m.,” Lucas said.
Demand response will initially be limited to Monday through Friday, though Lucas added that FRS Transportation will continue offering non-emergency medical transport on the weekends.
Adray said it’s not unusual even in areas like Cincinnati and Columbus for public transportation weekend hours to differ from weekday hours.
“Starting out, we just have to go daytime services. Now, expanding the hours is something that lies ahead; expanding the areas we serve is something that lies ahead,” Adray said. “Adams County is one of the areas that we want to be able to expand into. Adams County, you have a food desert. There’s food in West Union, but if you go almost anywhere else, there aren’t any grocery stores. If you’re in Manchester, that’s a pretty good trip. These are things that will come step-by-step.”
Lucas added, “We’ll be reapplying this spring to include Adams County. That was our initial plan when we spoke with ODOT: Adams County in 2021 and Brown County in 2022.”
Adray and Lucas said they’ll advertise more about the service before its March 2 start date.
In the meantime, Adray encouraged community members to ask questions and make suggestions.
“The best ideas and suggestions are generally going to come from people who are using the service or need the service,” Adray said. “We can’t think of every scenario. Public comment is important to us.”
For general inquiries and suggestions, reach out to Adray at 937-402-6156. For route-specific information and suggestions, including to submit points of interest in Hillsboro and Greenfield for consideration, call 937-393-0585 and ask for Lucas.
The next HARTS committee meeting will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 14 in the basement of the Highland County Administration Building, located at 119 Foraker Place in Hillsboro.
For more information or to stay up-to-date with HARTS, visit the HARTS website, harts4highland.org, or like the “Highland Area Rural Transportation System” Facebook page, which can also be found by searching “@HARTS4Highland.”
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.