By John Kiesewetter
Enquirer staff writer
HAMILTON - With city bus service near the end of the line, Butler County's transportation agency wants to explore transforming itself into a collaborative for social-service organizations.
"We're trying to get something established here that makes sense for the county," said Carla Lakatos, Butler County Regional Transit Authority executive director.
The agency operates The Shuttle, a three-day-a week bus service in Hamilton which runs out of city funding Oct. 29.
City Manager Mike Samoviski said council doesn't plan to renew the $147,000 grant for the one-year transit experiment, after city voters rejected a half-mill, five-year levy in March. The transit authority has been running on fumes since 2002, when the countywide Blast bus service stopped running after three countywide levy failures.
But with the transit authority to receive funding from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority through next year, the board decided to "use it as seed money to try to get something started to provide transportation in the county... without having to go back to the taxpayers for more funds," she said.
So on Oct. 7, three weeks before city buses vanish, Lakatos will gather representatives from more than three dozen county agencies. The goal is to form a task force to inventory county transportation resources and explore the potential for coordinating or sharing services, said Ken Bogard, board president. Nineteen Ohio counties have coordinated transit programs, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation.
An initial survey by Lakatos revealed that Butler County agencies have 89 vehicles that make 560,000 one-way trips annually. At least 25 agencies pay staffers involved with transportation, she said.
"The duplication is immense," she said. "We could have more (service) for the same amount of money being spent."
Lakatos acknowledged that some agencies may be reluctant to participate, fearing they could lose existing services. At the least, the task force could result in vehicle sharing or a central dispatch service, said Bogard. A consolidated service also could provide some transit for the general public, in addition to agencies' pick-ups, she said.
The task force could make recommendations in a year, with implementation of the plan by summer of 2006, she said. Among options is the transportation authority would cease to exist, she said.
Roberta Elza, 77, of Lindenwald, a regular passenger on The Shuttle, said she liked the idea of a coordinated countywide transit service.
"That sounds good. A town the size of Hamilton needs some sort of transportation," she said.
Dorothy Bisson, 69, who uses The Shuttle's on-demand wheelchair-lift service, said she doesn't know how she will get around after Oct. 29.
"I'm so upset about it," Bisson said. "I'll be more or less stranded."
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