Trumbull transit board hopes to initiate pilot program for free rides

WARREN — The Trumbull County Transit Board is considering an alternative way to help people living in Warren’s food deserts to get to the grocery store and other places in town they might not be able to reach without a vehicle.

The board on Wednesday gave permission to Terry Thomas, president of the board’s contracted company Community Bus Services, to look into applying for a $5,000 community investment grant from The Raymond John Wean Foundation to offer free rides to people who need a trip to the grocery or other essential places. The grants can be applied for at any time and decisions are reached monthly.

“There is a tremendous need. And I think we can do this,” Thomas said. “There is a dense population on the west side, made up of people who need this.”

The pilot program would help define what kind of interest riders would have in the program and where they would want to be picked up and dropped off, Thomas said. Depending on the information collected, the board could consider developing a permanent solution with the bus company.

Thomas presented a copy of the We are Warren transportation narrative created by Kevin Stringer, the initiative’s program coordinator.

We are Warren is a collaboration between Warren city and school officials, Inspiring Minds and the Eastern Ohio Education Partnership.

“One of the most difficult gaps in the Warren community is the lack of consistent and accessible transportation. The absence of consistent, affordable and accessible transportation can adversely affect youth in the areas of health, income and education,” the narrative states.

Warren Councilwoman Cheryl Saffold, D-6th Ward, attended the transit board meeting to support the idea.

“I see this transportation crisis as a No. 1 concern. There is very limited options for public transportation. We have the Western Reserve Transit Authority route, but it doesn’t serve the entire community. I see young women walking in the streets, pushing strollers, walking all the way from the Hampshire homes to the Highland homes, because WRTA doesn’t come up to Tod Avenue. I am hopeful this idea won’t only help seniors, but any other person who needs to make it to a job interview, further their education at Kent Trumbull or Eastern Gateway College, and of course, the grocery store. The food desert is one of our main concerns, but there is no transportation for a lot of things that I deem — and I’m sure anyone else would deem — a necessity,” Saffold said.

If the bus service could offer rides to areas in the county with more job opportunities, like the Eastwood Mall complex, that would be an even bigger benefit to people in Warren who don’t have access to traditional transportation, Saffold said.

Warren residents already can use the service for $4 per one-way ride for members of the general public, and for $1.50 for a senior, by calling 330-369-2600 up to seven days in advance.

But the pilot program, if it were to move forward and receive one of the grants, would offer the rides for free.

The plan wouldn’t only help people who need rides, but could also help the service increase ridership, Thomas said.

Thomas said despite having some problems and complaints about access to rides, like being put on a waiting list or wait times, he is confident the bus service can make this program work.

The idea isn’t fully formed yet, and would have to meet guidelines that dictate how the transit board can spend its funds if it were to materialize into a standard option.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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