Written by JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN Sentinel County Editor
Friday, 12 April 2013 09:44
Before all the statistics and acronyms got tossed about, a human face was put on the need for public transportation in Wood County.
The letter from a Grand Rapids area couple in their 80s told of their difficulty getting to doctors' appointment, the grocery store, pharmacy or hardware store.
"This is about people today," said Robin Richter, director of senior and transportation services for WSOS Community Action Commission.
On Thursday, several Wood County service providers and community leaders gathered to discuss public transportation needs.
"This is the start of a conversation for the community," Richter said.
"There is a need there," she said. So now the community leaders are trying to find options to meet the needs, and trying to engage stakeholders to make it happen.
"It has to come up from the grassroots," Richter said.
Public transportation needs have been discussed before in the county, but plans to put together a transit program have never progressed far due to a variety of reasons, such as the lack of funding resources, and the large rural geographic area of the county.
But recent numbers and surveys have shown a growing need - causing the issue to once again come up for discussion.
"We've been out in the community getting feedback, which has really been eye-opening," Richter said.
In addition to 241 transportation surveys being completed, WSOS also had information gathered by Bowling Green State University public administration students. Those students presented the following numbers about the county's needs:
• The 2010 U.S. Census showed 4,724 residents aged 65 and older with disabilities, 5,721 between the ages 18 and 64 with disabilities, and 875 who are 18 and younger.
• Like the rest of the nation, aging baby boomers are creating a growing demand for senior transportation services. "Wood County is no exception," said BGSU student James McConnell.
• 64 percent of those surveyed said they have never used public transportation in Wood County.
• If public transit was available, those surveyed said they would use the service to get to their doctor's office, hospital, therapy, daycare, grocery store, drug store or church.
• Several people who don't have their own transportation seem to hitch rides with other drivers to get to their jobs. "Right now there's no alternative to get to work unless you walk," BGSU student Dominic Wells said. "Some said they were unable to accept a job offer because they couldn't get to the job."
• Some transportation services are already offered in the county for certain populations, such as those served by Wood Lane, Wood County Committee on Aging, or BGSU students. Bowling Green also has public transit and four cab services in the city limits.
• Much of the northern end of the county is served by TARTA, including Northwood, Rossford, Millbury and Walbridge.
• Perrysburg has exited from the TARTA system, but will be voting on its own transit program next month.
The Ohio Department of Transportation has approved two transit authorities in Wood County - the areas covered by TARTA and the city of Bowling Green. So any new transit program cannot intrude on the existing systems. "We'll run into some roadblocks," BGSU student Chris Van Newhouse said.
Also at Thursday's meeting, David Walker, of ODOT's Office of Transit, talked about funding possibilities for public transportation services. The next deadline for funding applications is April 22 - too early to meet for the Wood County effort, Richter said.
"We have to identify strategies and priorities," she said.