The number of bus riders in Butler County has quadrupled to 321,301 in the past year, spurring the Butler County Regional Transit Authority to add new and improved routes, officials say.
Carla Lakatos, executive director of BCRTA, announced this week that a new route has been opened up between the Market Street hub in Hamilton and Tri-County Mall in Hamilton County. Once there, riders have a multitude of riding options in and around Cincinnati.
The service has been enhanced with two-hour bus schedules on all routes instead of just morning and evening service. The routes that run the “triangle” between Middletown, Hamilton and Oxford will run from 6:30 a.m. to 8:16 p.m.
“We’ve now opened up a lot of destinations for people for work,” Lakatos said. “Obviously, we’re really focused on getting people to work. We’re really happy about it, and it runs every two hours. Obviously, we’d love it to run every hour or every half hour, but resources limit what we can do.”
Lakatos said BCRTA has agreements with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) in Hamilton County for the park-n-ride at the Meijer store in West Chester Twp. that operates numerous buses throughout the day, taking riders to Cincinnati. The other agreement was for an express route from Fairfield Crossings that hooked up at Tri-County. The Fairfield bus only made two trips in the morning and two in the afternoon, leaving riders virtually stranded throughout the day.
“Our new bus does the same job as that bus did, but it operates every two hours, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.,” she said. “You have a lot more options.”
Jeffrey Diver, executive director of Supports to Encourage Low-income Families (SELF), the county community action agency, said the expanded routes and schedules will be a godsend to the clients his agency serves. It will get them to and from part-time jobs, school, appointments with his agency, with much greater ease, he said.
“We served 7,000-plus families last year, and I would easily say a majority of them have challenges with reliable transportation,” Diver said. “Public transportation is critical, really, for living, for individuals who can’t afford to purchase or maintain a vehicle.”
Butler County ridership numbers have exploded in the past year since the transit authority took over the former Miami University bus system that only served faculty and students. The university pays BCRTA about $1.6 million annually to run the program that was opened up to the general public last fall. In 2012, there were 77,672 riders. Ridership soared to 321,301 last year.
The deal with Miami was part of a sustainability goal the university set, according to Lt. Ben Spilman, director of parking and transportation services. He said the lack of parking on the Oxford campus has been a real barrier for both students and the people who work there. The partnership with BCRTA opened up avenues to the whole county.
“Our privately operated system wasn’t open to the general public, and it wasn’t as accessible,” Spilman said. “The BCRTA vehicles are handicapped accessible, they’re ADA compliant and, with the way they operate their routes, I think it is a much more inclusive service. Plus, they are linking up to other routes and connections.”
BCRTA main funding sources are state and federal grants, passenger fares — fixed route fares are $2 one-way, seniors and those with disabilities ride for $1 — and other local partnerships. Middletown had the transit authority take over the day-to-day management of the city’s bus service last year, according to Doug Adkins, community revitalization director.
But the city has had a relationship with the service for several years, especially after a transit study revealed an area that had been lacking.
“People were able to get to second shift-type positions, but then the bus service closed, leaving them no way to get back home after work,” Adkins said. “We partnered with BCRTA to offer a curb-to-curb night shuttle service. While the service was slow to pick up, we now transport almost 60 people a month on average after the main bus service shuts down at night.”
BCRTA offers door-to-door service county-wide, but Lakatos said it can cost anywhere from $5 to $30 per ride.
Warren County subsidizes the door-to-door-only bus service there, to the tune of about $350,000 a year. Butler County as an entity does not pay any money toward the public transportation system.
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