Downtown Youngstown Celebrates WRTA 50th Anniversary

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — About a half dozen proclamations were presented Friday to the Western Reserve Transit Authority as it celebrated the system’s 50th anniversary during an event downtown.

The publicly-owned WRTA was established in 1971, while the $1.5 million transfer station on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Federal Street was completed in 1985. WRTA operates 27 bus routes with 47 large buses and 25 smaller transit vehicles – serving 1.5 million passengers per year.

Dean Harris, WRTA’s executive director, said the transit system will roll out autonomous vehicles in the spring or summer of next year that will run from the downtown hub up Fifth Avenue to Mercy Health – St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.

“National trends indicate more and more communities are opting for public transportation, at least for part of the time, even if they do own a car,” Harris said. “Our environment, costs and convenience all play an important role in the decision to ride public transportation.”

Of those who ride the bus, 60% have no car or unable to drive, and 40% are seniors or individuals with disabilities, he said. During the pandemic, all riders benefited from free fares that will continue through till the end of the year, though WRTA is exploring ways to offer permanent free rides.

The local economy greatly benefits from WRTA as 40% of riders go to work and 50% are shopping or being transported to medical appointments, according to Harris.

“WRTA is a resource for the Valley and employers struggling with a labor shortage really depend on WRTA for their employees there and for employees to get to their jobs,” Harris said.

WRTA riders can use myStop either on a mobile app on the Google Play or Apple Store, or found HERE.

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Gallery images include Sarah Boyarko, Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber; Mirta Reyes-Chapman, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, and Dean Harris receiving proclamations from Mike Salamone, Trumbull County Transit Administrator; Patrick Lowry, local representative of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio; and Jordan Pennell, regional representative of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Sarah Boyarko, chief operating officer and senior vice president of economic development for the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, said WRTA is an integral part of expanding the economic infrastructure of the Mahoning Valley as the chamber works to make this swath of northeastern Ohio a destination spot for businesses.

Many workers and businesses rely on the routes to the North Jackson and Lordstown corridors, she noted. 

WRTA and the chamber are polling Mahoning and Trumbull county residents to learn what expansions are deemed necessary for future routes so commissioners in both areas can make informed decisions. A current list of WRTA routes can be found HERE.

“Without the transportation services offered by WRTA, we may not have succeeded in many of those projects over the years and in securing that economic development investment,” Boyarko said. “If people cannot get to work, businesses cannot grow and cannot keep their doors open. With 48% of WRTA’s riders using this service for work on a daily basis, WRTA staff is truly doing their part to keep business doors open in this community as well as the economy moving.”

Harris said the city of Youngstown and Boardman Township are collaborating on a Market Street Transit-Oriented Development Plan to develop transportation, retail and residential options – providing efficient transportation along with retail and residential growth for that area. 

According to the WRTA website, the plan will propose improvements to bus service and bus stops, sidewalks, bike lanes and crosswalks, and traffic control systems to make Market Street safer and easier to use for bus riders, pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Mirta Reyes-Chapman, transit program manager for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, said it is continually planning for transportation decades from now to enhance the way of life in the Mahoning Valley. State and federal funds are making the Smart2 project possible. The Smart2 – Strategic & Sustainable, Medical & Manufacturing, Academic & Arts, Residential & Recreational, Technology & Training – Network project will involve infrastructure and aesthetic upgrades to Fifth Avenue, upgrades to adjacent downtown streets and the implementation of an autonomous shuttle service. 

“I look forward to 50 more years of excellence service,” she said.

Pictured at top: WRTA Executive Director Dean Harris addresses those gathered during Friday’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.