NILES Voices of support for bus system

A disabled woman said public transportation would enable her to maintain her independence.
NILES -- Many people who work with the disabled say Trumbull County needs countywide transportation, while the executive director of the Western Reserve Transit Authority remains concerned.
Niles Mayor Ralph A. Infante Jr. is spearheading the Trumbull proposal. Niles is submitting an application to the Federal Transit Administration, seeking $248,200 in federal money for a one-year pilot program.
"Trumbull County is the largest county in Ohio without public transportation and I think it's about time we had [it]," Infante said at a public hearing Wednesday.
His plan is for a demand-response system with discounted rates for the elderly, disabled and residents of the participating communities.
'Not a luxury': One disabled woman from Hubbard thinks public transportation is badly needed in the county to help the disabled maintain their independence.
"If you can't drive you still need to go grocery shopping, to buy clothes," she said. "It's not a luxury, it's a necessity."
About 30 people, most of whom support the plan, attended the hearing.
Kim Haase, operations manager for the SCOPE Center in Warren, also supports the plan.
"Ever since I started, transportation has been the biggest headache," Haase said. "The fixed-route system doesn't make it when it comes to seniors and the disabled."
Funding: The total project cost is estimated at $620,000 and includes about $226,000 from Trumbull commissioners and seven local communities. Niles, Cortland, Howland, Liberty, McDonald, Vienna and Weathersfield each are pitching in $1 per resident.
Eastgate Regional Council of Governments approved Niles' request to designate $248,200 in highway funds for a one-year pilot of the Trumbull plan. The plan must be submitted to FTA for approval. Comments made at the public hearing also must be submitted to FTA, which has up to 120 days for its review.
Written comments may be submitted to Infante through March 11.
About $2 million designated for Mahoning and Trumbull counties annually goes to WRTA. Mark Hess, Niles coordinator of engineering, grants and development, said the federal funding being requested isn't money being taken away from WRTA.
Concerns: James J. Ferraro, WRTA executive director, didn't attend the hearing but submitted his concerns in writing.
He says Niles hasn't established its eligibility to receive FTA funding.
"Sufficient local funding is lacking to support the level of federal funding requested by the city of Niles," Ferraro wrote. "The revised Niles plan is not fiscally constrained."
He also contends that the basis for the proposed fare structure hasn't been established.
Marty Martinek, president of the WRTA's para-transit program, questioned why Trumbull authorities didn't try to work with WRTA to expand transportation in Trumbull County.
"Why reinvent the wheel?" he asked.
Infante said he met with WRTA officials in December 2000 and was denied a pass-through agreement that would have enabled Trumbull to receive some of the money allocated to WRTA to run a transportation system.
Difference: The Trumbull program would be a demand-response system in which clients would call for a ride from one specific point to another and back, while WRTA operates a fixed-route system, he said.
Marianne Vaughn of WRTA said that agency is willing to contract that service in Trumbull County, but a local share is required.
Niles plans to seek competitive bids to provide the service.

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