Transit technical adviser leaves

WARREN – It made sense in 2011 for the Trumbull County Transit Board to have Mark Hess, the grants and development coordinator in the Niles’ Engineering Office, come aboard to advise the fledgling group in trying to figure out how to run a countywide public transportation.

After all, Hess could walk the walk and talk the talk. He had a decade’s worth of experience under his belt working with the Federal Transit Administration on the Niles-Trumbull Transit System, negotiating with other regional bus systems to make sure NiTTS’ got its fair share of federal funding and helping it grow to a more than $2 million a year operation.

But when the board included him in their plans as technical adviser, both knew that Hess’ days of double duty were numbered.

Hess’ last official meeting with the board was Friday, but he’s leaving the door open, just in case the board needs to lean on his expertise.

”I will always help this transit board,” Hess said.

Some members, in jest, suggested he keep his schedule open on May 2 and 30 – the days of the board’s next two meetings.

His duties in Niles are the reason Hess is stepping away now from the board, which has had a full three years to familiarize itself with the workings of a transit system. Kudos were passed on to Hess for his service.

”All I ever needed to know and all I ever learned about transportation, I learned from you,” said Robert Faulker, transit board chairman to Hess.

The idea of NiTTS began around 2001 with Niles Mayor Ralph Infante, who wanted to expand on a system in his city for senior citizens. Meetings with federal, state and local officials materialized into going after and successfully getting federal dollars to run the system and convincing most city, village and township officials to kick in some money, which let residents in those areas ride for reduced fairs.

Trumbull County commissioners were supportive, too, agreeing to contribute to the endeavor a portion of Senior Levy dollars.

For the first year, NiTTS awarded a $472,500 contract to Community Bus Service, which still provides the rides today. The funds were cobbled together with the local community donations and a federal grant and now the budget tops $2.1 million and includes a $334,000 state grant.

Also in year number one, the system made a little more than 18,354 trips. Last year, the system, known now as the Trumbull Transit System, gave 53,000 trips.

”The main purpose of it is move seniors, move people with disabilities, move school children, people that didn’t have rides and look how it has worked out,” said Infante, whose effort helping to drive the system was also recognized. ”It is unbelievable.”

Infante decided to pull Niles out of running the system in 2011 because it was becoming increasingly difficult for the city to incur the up-front costs and wait for that money to be reimbursed. That led to the creation of the Transit Board.

There were, though, bumps along the way, like the ill-fated attempt in 2011 to convince voters on a half-mill levy. It went down at the polls by a margin of about 30 percent.