Despite a driver shortage, the Butler County Regional Transit Authority board has decided not to suspend some routes because they don’t want to leave people stranded.
Last month BCRTA took public comments on a proposal to temporarily suspend the R-2 route between Oxford and Middletown, the R-4 bus that runs from Hamilton to Tri County — the R-6 route virtually mirrors the R-4 route — and the door-to-door BGo buses that run up to the South Dayton hub in Montgomery County.
Staff shortages and the impact COVID has had on ridership prompted route suspension talks. BCRTA Executive Director Matt Dutkevicz said following the public input session all the routes will stay intact, for now.
“It is obvious the impact that public transit has on our community,” Dutkevicz said. “Without these services many could not get to work, school, kids to daycare, or to doctor appointments and the grocery store.”
He said the board will revisit the route suspension monthly as they monitor ridership and try to hire more drivers.
The board received 47 comments on the proposed suspension and all of them pleaded for keeping the routes.
“I understand there may be issues with staffing shortages or rider counts of some sort, but I implore you to please consider doing all you can to keep the bus lines in service,” one person wrote. “Something like suspending a bus line, even only temporarily, may seem small and simple in the grand scheme of things, but something so small and simple has a tremendous and important impact on real lives in our communities.”
Dutkevicz said BCRTA has increased starting wages and recently began offering medical benefits — something they haven’t done for about 20 years — to entice more job applicants. He said they are hiring fulltime drivers and some other positions and people don’t need a commercial license. Applicants can apply at: https://www.butlercountyrta.com/careers.
“It was strictly capacity, I just don’t have drivers, we can’t do it,” Dutkevicz said about the route hiatus idea. “Our problem is that our BGo service demand is like twice what it was before the pandemic, it’s just grown.”
Butler County Development Director David Fehr, who is a BCRTA board member, said he is pleased they didn’t interrupt service and the board has asked staff to advertise more that the fixed routes are still free.
“I don’t think that’s widely known...,” Fehr said. “Gas prices kind of keep sneaking up again and that’s a nice feature, especially for lower income wages, if the route’s convenient enough to have that available.”
Many of the routes have rebounded nicely after the height of the pandemic when ridership all but stopped, but these three in question have been sluggish.
Earlier this year Dutkevicz told the Journal-News the ridership for the West Chester route “dropped off a cliff,” about 95% in all. The Oxford routes were strongly affected with a decrease of about 90%, largely because Miami University students were away from campus for long periods.
Ridership on the Middletown routes and the Job Connector only dropped by about 15%. Overall ridership dropped 64% from 620,320 in 2019 to 222,718 last year.