FRS Transportation is looking toward reopening its public transportation routes following the agency’s best two weeks since offering public transportation, FRS Transportation Director Damon Lucas told The Times-Gazette.
FRS Transportation’s public routes, also referred to as a “deviated loops,” feature routes in both Hillsboro and Greenfield as well as a connecting route between the city and village.
The loops opened in early March and ran for just three weeks before the company switched to same-day, demand response services for individuals and family units in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
During the stay-at-home order, FRS primarily transported individual riders and single-family units for doctors’ appointments and grocery trips, but the loop was originally intended to offer Highland County residents transportation options for all their needs — essential and non-essential.
Lucas said he hopes that as retail and entertainment businesses reopen more community members will begin to feel comfortable enough to use FRS Transportation’s services.
“We’re trying to gauge what everyone’s doing in the community. If people are more comfortable coming out and moving around within the county, then we’ll consider reopening. Right now, it’s a struggle because people are still afraid,” Lucas said. “We’ve had the best two weeks that we’ve had since we started public transportation in Highland County, so I’m hoping that’s a positive sign. If it continues the first few weeks of June, hopefully we can decide to make that transition in July.”
The demand for public transportation in Highland County will heavily influence the decision to reopen the loop.
“We’re just nervous about putting our necks back out there again and not having any riders, but hopefully, we get some good news from the state,” Lucas said. “If the demand continues or increases with new riders, it’ll definitely help sway us in the right direction to open those routes back up. It’s not exactly what we or the state were looking for ridershipwise, but I think we’re going in the right direction at least. I think if we have another couple strong weeks, it’ll be a ‘let’s give it a shot and see what happens kind of thing.’”
However, when the loop does reopen, Lucas said there may be some minor changes.
Due to the amount of time it takes for one FRS vehicle to complete the previous Hillsboro route, FRS may alter the route to cut down on riders’ wait times, Lucas said.
“We don’t want anybody hanging out longer than they have to,” Lucas said. “The route in Hillsboro has quite a few stops. It can be a long day if you’re riding around on it. We’ll look to try to improve that route, but we’ll still have the service in Greenfield and there will still be a connector between Greenfield and Hillsboro.”
To speed the routes up, Lucas said FRS is considering briefer stops and may eliminate stops along the previous Hillsboro route.
In the meantime, Lucas said FRS will continue to offer demand response services in both Highland County communities.
“We’ll continue same-day services until the loop opens up, and then we’ll see if we can handle doing both. If we can, we’ll maintain it; if not, it might be something we phase away,” he said.
Lucas predicted FRS’s demand response services will be more popular in Highland County, even once the loop reopens, as FRS’s demand response services offer riders more control over those they come in contact with.
“For those who still fear COVID, they’ll be able to ride in the vehicle by themselves [with demand response services] as opposed to on the route, where there’s an opportunity others may be on the bus with them,” Lucas said.
Looking forward, Lucas said FRS Transportation will maintain the safety procedures it adopted as a result of COVID-19 concerns.
“The drivers are going to be masked up and gloved up. We’re still going to be cleaning every couple hours, if not after every client on the demand response,” Lucas said. “Until a lot of this blows over, I could see this going into fall or even late fall just to make everybody feel safer.”
In March, Lucas told The Times-Gazette the agency was able to expand its program to offer on-demand transportation for Adams County residents as well. On Wednesday, Lucas said FRS plans to continue offering those services in Adams County until it can no longer logistically do so.
“We’re not going to take that service away from Adams County. It hasn’t taken off quite as well as it has in Highland County, but of course, that was a brand new system down there,” Lucas said. “We’ve always done the non-emergency medical transport down there, but for them to actually have public transit, it’s not well-known down there, so I think it’s going to take a little more time, which I think we can handle capacitywise for now.”
Lucas said the cost per on-demand ride may vary based on which zones residents travel between, but rides generally cost:
* $1 to travel within city limits.
* $2 to travel up to 10 miles outside city limits.
* $3 to travel more than 10 miles outside city limits.
Fares must be paid in cash.
For more information, visit www.frstransportation.org or call 937-393-0585.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.