LANCASTER − City officials are talking to the Fairfield County commissioners about taking over the Lancaster-Fairfield Public Transit system.
Commissioner Steve Davis wants to hire RLS and Associates near Dayton for $49,000 to look into the possibility and assess the county's transportation needs and issues.
"Kind of give us an idea of how we're doing there or how we might do better," he said. "And then part two of that study would be an analysis of what would be involved in changing the governance structure for Lancaster-Fairfield Public Transit. So say, for example, moving it from being a city department to becoming a county department."
He said the consulting company would probably study the issue for the rest of this year with the county maybe taking over next year.
"I'd kind of like to get this questioned answered this year," Davis said. "I think we need to get moving on it and kind of get figured out what we want to do or don't want to do. Then kind of see where we are on the calendar in relation to the fiscal year before we would make any final decisions."
He said the LFPT fiscal year is the same as a regular calendar year.
Lancaster Mayor David Scheffler said if it makes sense for the county to take over to serve areas like Bremen, Amanda and Sugar Grove then the city would approve a county takeover. But he said there are still "a lot of hurdles to clear between now and it getting done."
"I know Commissioner Davis wants to expand what's done county wide," Scheffler said. "Certainly, that takes a lot of resources. I think if the city and country work together to get that done it would be a great benefit."
Davis said the next step is for him to talk to fellow commissioners Jeff Fix and Dave Levacy. But he said he thinks the county should take over LFPT.
LFPT has a budget of $2.7 million this year, with the city contributing $150,000. The rest of the funding comes from state and federal sources, along with contracts to serve clients like Meals on Wheels of Fairfield County and the Fairfield County Board of Developmental Disabilities. LFPT also gets revenue from selling advertising on the sides of their vehicles.
LFPT had 111,945 passengers last year. There were 96,026 riders in 2021 and 89,362 in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Scheffler said ridership is now approaching pre-pandemic levels.
The transit system had 130,408 riders in 2019, the most it has had since 2009 when there were 56,820 riders. Ridership jumped to 111,787 in 2015 and was at 115,167 in 2016.
The low mark since 2009 was the 55,321 riders in 2012.
Davis said LFPT is doing a good job now.
"I think they have very, very limited resources," he said. "But with the resources they have I think they do a good job with it. But it's just not been a priority for quite some time."
Davis said he is not being critical of the city with the possible takeover.
"But there are gaps out there in service," he said. "And there is additional need out there. I think they welcome a look at that with an eye towards, whether it's where it should be or maybe there's something more that could be done. I don't think anybody at the county or the city has come down fully on one side or the other of how this all turns out."
Davis said city and county officials all need more information and data before they can make any decision.
For more information on the system's bus routes, including those in Lancaster and one in Pickerington, go to the public transit department's page on the city's website at www.ci.lancaster.oh.us, or call 740-681-5086.
This article originally appeared on Lancaster Eagle-Gazette: City considers turning public transit system over to Fairfield County