Enon council considers pulling funding for public transit

By Linda Collins Special Correspondent

March 1, 2014

ENON — A vote during Tuesday village council meeting could have an effect on public transit service for Enon residents before the end of the year.

In a 5-1 vote, village council members approved contributing only $2,500 to WestCAT Public Transportation for six months, and subsequently, taking a step back and reassessing the village’s financial support of the western Clark County public transit system at the end of the six-month period.

Both Enon and Mad River Township provided $5,000 respectively in funding to WestCAT in 2013. According to Mad River Township Trustee President Kathy Estep, the township has committed to continue providing the same level of funding to WestCAT in 2014.

Enon Mayor Tim Howard stated that he first took an interest in WestCAT when he was employed with the City of New Carlisle, and City Manager Kim Jones became actively involved in the early stages of establishing the public transportation system for communities in western Clark County. However, since the public transportation system was launched in April 2013, data that was provided by WestCAT Transit System showed a low ridership in the village and township.

“When you look at the numbers from April through November, the numbers are low,” Howard said. “We can’t take that lightly, and it will take a couple of years to see a considerable increase in riders.”

Councilman Elmer Beard, who has taken an active role in establishing the western Clark County public transit, said he was encouraged about the month-to-month increase in ridership and optimistic about certain changes in the works that will feasibly increase ridership in the village and township.

“I have a positive spin on this,” said Beard as he pointed out the figures on a bar chart that showed a steady increase in the amount of passengers per run, on a month-to-month basis. “This is a growth of 300 percent over a nine-month period.”

With hopes of finding a better way of improving local transit options, Beard noted that WestCAT would be adjusting its daily schedule to accommodate more riders, particularly those riders traveling to and from full-time jobs.

“The goal is to make the system more commuter-friendly. WestCAT will be running certain routes earlier in the morning and later in the evening for people traveling to and from their jobs and who are making connections with Greene CATS Public Transit, Springfield City Area Transit, and the Greater Dayton Regional Transit,” Beard said. “I am anticipating improved numbers with this restructuring.”

Beard said that all of the advertising space had been sold on the exterior of the buses which will provide additional funding for WestCAT, and bike racks had been installed on buses as well to encourage residents who desire to connect with a bike path.

Councilman Rick Hanna proposed that the village support the bus service for another year and after a year, evaluate the situation. He said such support would give WestCAT officials more time to increase ridership.

Councilwoman Lorri Jenkins said it was too soon to withdraw any amount of support when WestCAT appears to be moving in the right direction. Jenkins also noted that a woman who is employed at her workplace and is legally blind rides WestCAT on a daily basis.

On the other hand, Councilman Jerry Crane said the data indicated that village residents were an independent group of people who would not necessarily want to rely on public transit.

“When you take into consideration the amount of village residents who used WestCAT last year and compare that number to the $5,000 the village funded to WestCAT, is averages $100 per rider. That’s a lot of money,” Crane said. “Even if we doubled that amount in 2014, it would still average out to $50 per rider.”

Estep told village council members that it would be disappointing if the village decided to opt out of the partnership since WestCAT depends on the western communities in the county lending their support to a public transit service that is not intended to be a “money maker” but an option.

“We need to give the citizens the option to use public transit. It is a quality of life issue,” said Estep. “Ninety percent of the citizens may never use it, but they have that choice. Trust me, $5,000 is money that is well spent.”

The township trustee also pointed out that the idea of using a public transit system was a new concept for the community, and residents needed time to acclimate to the idea.

In an effort to encourage use of public transit among teens and seniors, WestCAT officials are working with Greenon Local School District administrators and the Clark County Commissioners to launch a pilot program that will pair Greenon High School students with local seniors in a “great race” competition.

“I have talked with Superintendent Dan Bennett, and we are working directly with the social studies and math teachers. The competition will actually be a part of the students’ curriculum,” Estep said. “We hope to have the program up and running by May.”

Councilman Stephen Trout said he applauded Estep’s enthusiasm but pointed out that the numbers during the first year of bus service made it difficult for him to rationalize giving WestCAT a higher priority for tax dollars than other needs in the village.

“It’s not about the village not funding public transit; it’s about funding other things such as repairing the holes in the roads,” said Trout.