September 1, 2014

Elyria
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Transit buses will keep rolling — for now

ELYRIA — Lorain County Transit’s fixed-route buses will keep rolling after all — at least for now.

County Commissioner Ted Kalo said the county has received $293,153 in federal money that will be used to fund LCT, which had been set to end fixed-route bus service after Dec. 31.

The money comes from federal funds allocated to transportation projects around the state that were never spent. The money was collected by the Ohio Department of Transportation and redistributed to cash-strapped public transit systems around the state, Kalo said.

The funds aren’t the $500,000 the county had been contributing yearly to LCT’s approximately $5 million annual budget, but it’s enough to halt the county’s plan to end fixed-route bus service, Kalo said.

“This will save county transit to some degree,” he said. “Now we’ve got to sit down and figure out how much transit service we can get for that money.”

The commissioners had decided to scrap their contribution to LCT after voters last month shot down a ballot issue that would have made a 0.5 percent sales tax increase permanent. Without that, commissioners said there simply wasn’t enough money.

And without the county providing money, most of the state and federal grants that form the bulk of LCT’s budget would disappear.

Although the fixed-routes that form the backbone of LCT’s service will remain in a possibly diminished form for now, Kalo warned that the money the county will get is a one-time shot in the arm.

It’s one of many last minute, one-time financial infusions the county has been able to wrangle in recent years to stave off proposed transit cuts.

Earlier this year, the commissioners approved a plan to end Sunday service and scale back other routes. More severe cuts were avoided when the federal government approved allowing the county to use $400,000 in federal stimulus money to support operations.

That money had originally been part of $4 million in federal funds designated for transportation infrastructure and the county is spending most of that money on the long-running renovation of the old train depot.

And in 2008, the county received $645,000 from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency that allowed the county to avoid transit cuts.

When the decision to end fixed-route service became public earlier this month, it was met with outrage by riders, many of whom said LCT buses are their only means of getting from place to place, including to jobs and medical appointments.

The county also spent about $712,000 in federal money earlier this year to purchase 13 new buses, which would have been mothballed.

The county has already informed Cincinnati-based First Transit Inc., which operates LCT buses, of its plan to end fixed-route service at the end of the year and between 40 and 60 company employees were expected to be laid off.

Kalo said he doesn’t know yet how many of those jobs will be saved, and he said the county also needs to find a long-term solution to Transit’s chronic budget woes.

In the past, the commissioners have discussed asking the municipalities serviced by LCT to kick in money to fund the agency.

A previously planned fare increase — from the current $2.05 to $2.15 — will go into effect on Jan. 1, which could bring additional funds.

The county has told Greyhound it would no longer be able to use LCT’s Third Street offices as a bus station, but what impact the federal money will have on that decision remains unclear.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.