Warren County Transit Service officials are negotiating with SORTA, which operates the Metro transit system, to funnel some federal grant money – earned for running an express shuttle to Kings Island – to Warren’s system. Growing population has recategorized Warren County as urban, which threatens to cost the county transit service half its annual budget. / Provided/Metro
Sheila McLaughlin reports:
A public bus system in Warren County that helps the elderly get to medical appointments and low-income residents get to work stands to lose about half of its operating budget in 2014.
County officials call it a glitch in the federal transportation bill that took affect in July of last year. They are looking at cuts in service and scrambling for a bailout that will help them recoup some of the anticipated $600,000 loss in federal funding from the bus system’s $1.1 million budget.
The issue is that, when Warren County hit the 200,000 population mark in the 2010 census, it became categorized as an urban county instead of a rural one. (With about 213,000 people today, Warren County’s population just barely pushes it over the urban benchmark.) As a result, it had to seek transit-grant funding through the federal government instead of the state.
That didn’t make much difference until the federal transportation bill changed funding methods by generally restricting transit money to capital expenses, such as equipment purchases or maintenance. Small urban transit systems with 75 or fewer buses could use their money for operations if they had a fixed-route system.
There’s the rub: Warren County doesn’t have bus routes. Riders call for appointments and get picked up at the door.
Ohio has 35 rural bus systems and 27 urban bus systems making 112 million trips.
“It’s one more example of why I’m so frustrated with government,” said Warren County Commissioner Dave Young. “This is a stupid technicality. If anybody ever drives around Warren County, you would know we are not an urban area. We don’t want to use it for capital (costs) because we don’t need that.”
A regional transportation expert said it’s just another example of how federal government regulations hurt people.
“We have a system which is broken, and Washington refuses to make any compromises in regulations that would allow people who depend on transit for jobs having better access to that,” said Mark Policinski, executive director of Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments.
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