Editor’s note — The name of the person identified as Ryan in this story has been changed to protect his identity.
After an extended job search, Ryan, a Hillsboro resident and single father of three, secured a position that was well-paying, suited to his abilities, and accommodating of functional limitations. The only problem, Ryan said, is that while he lives in Hillsboro, his place of employment is in Wilmington and his access to reliable transportation is inconsistent and unpredictable.
Local social media groups have been peppered with similar anecdotal reports of individuals whose transportation needs exceed the capacity of available options.
FRS Transportation in Hillsboro runs a fleet of vehicles that while previously limited to medical transportation, expanded just before the pandemic started to include public transportation for purposes beyond the doctor’s visits that had previously been the backbone of its services.
“None of these services were previously offered to the public before in the county,” said Damon Lucas, FRS Transportation director. “As an essential service open during the pandemic, FRS was tasked to get the public to local shopping, work and medical appointments.”
According to Lucas, FRS Transportation’s growth has been exponential. He said that within the past two years, “FRS has grown to handle an additional 2,000 trips a month.”
Despite the changes and new accommodations, both Lucas and FRS CEO Dr. Roger Cheesbro acknowledge some of the structural limitations that are inherent to the system.
“Our rural transportation grant from ODOT allows us to provide transportation within Highland County,” said Cheesbro.
Lucas said that while the potential for “regionalization”, whereby transportation between counties could occur through a publicly funded system has been discussed, “It has yet to become a realization.”
This leaves people like Ryan few options.
Rhonda Fannin, director of workforce services at OhioMeansJobs of Highland County, acknowledges the transportation accessibility challenges encountered by local residents with a need to commute outside the county. “Transportation remains a barrier for those who need it” to travel outside the county, she said.
At the same time, Fannin acknowledged the progressive response and exponential growth of FRS Transportation in recent months, and lauded “FRS Transportation bus passes and bus routes” as having been “very beneficial for lots of reasons.” Fannin said that the services have been particularly helpful, “definitely for those who need it for employment reasons.”
In addition to the localization of the services that preclude people like Ryan and others from accessing subsidized transportation outside of Highland County, Lucas further described an extreme driver shortage currently plaguing not only its own organization but, “Ohio’s other rural public transit providers. Competition for those drivers comes from schools, nursing centers and high paying retail positions,” he said.
“Without drivers, services can not be expanded here,” Lucas added.
According to Joe Adray, Highland County mobility manager for FRS Transportation, it “provides low-cost transportation to the general public.” Adray stated that, while “local trips should be scheduled a day in advance, out of town or county trips need longer timelines. The availability of vehicles and drivers” can impact scheduling and that prospective patrons should call FRS to inquire regarding availability.
Adray said that a transportation survey was conducted recently. This Coordinated Transit Plan assessed, with input from the community, the public needs and interests regarding the rural transportation services provided in the area.
This plan is accessible for review and download at FRS Transportation’s website under, “Highland County Locally Developed Transportation Plan.”.
For more information about FRS Transportation, call 937-393-0585, or access its website at www.FRSTransportation.org.
Juliane Cartaino is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.