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WRTA Introduces ‘Free 4 All Friday’ Rides

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Jewel Stevens doesn’t have a car, so the Western Reserve Transit Authority provides an important service.

The caregiver and occasional retail employee, a resident of Youngstown’s northeast side, said she takes the bus to Austintown to do her shopping and to get to doctors’ appointments. She likes not having to pay for gasoline for a personal vehicle and enjoys the experience of riding on the bus. 

“I get to talk to people that I ordinarily wouldn’t get to talk to,” she said. She also praised the safety of the buses and the attitude and helpfulness of the bus drivers.   

Stevens has another reason to enjoy her bus ride, at least on Fridays this summer. WRTA kicked off its “Free 4 All Friday” promotion yesterday, in which fares are waived Fridays through Aug. 30 on its 27 fixed routes.

“It’s a little city with a big heart,” Stevens said.

Community leaders joined WRTA officials, including Dean Harris, executive director of the transit authority since October, at Federal Station downtown to launch the promotion with a short bus ride.

Free 4 All Friday is a way “to reward our passengers for their trust and loyalty for riding our buses all these years,” as well as to provide people who haven’t ridden the bus to see what WRTA has to offer, Harris said. It gives riders a mode of transportation for food, entertainment or other uses that they might not be able to afford if they had to pay for it that day.

During the Free 4 All Friday promotion, fares are waived through Aug. 30 on 27 fixed routes.

WRTA carries just under 6,000 riders on the average weekday, and fares are $1.25 per one-way trip, Harris said. He hoped to get 7,000 riders on Friday.

“The goal is to get more ridership. Ridership is more important to us than the slight loss in revenue,” he said. 

Last year, 1.47 million people rode on WRTA buses, a modest increase from 2017, said Mirta Reyes-Chapman, transit program manager for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, who attended the launch event. 

“There’s always trends in transit,” Reyes-Chapman said. “When gas prices go up, you see a lot more people ride public transportation in the region.” The Great Recession of a decade ago also impacted transit, she said. 

About half of WRTA’s ridership uses the transit system to get to and from work, Harris said. Access to medical care and education round out the top three uses by patrons.

Bus service is a “lifeline” for many individuals who don’t have access to a vehicle of their own, said Aimee Fifarek, executive director of the Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County, who also attended Friday’s event. 

“We know a lot of our users use public transportation to get to us, to get to work,” she said. “Mobility is a key factor in economic development and the ability to go to school, get your degree, get a job and keep getting to that job on time.” 

It also can be important for promoting healthy lifestyles, noted Sarah Lowry, director of the Healthy Community Partnership-Mahoning Valley.

“We want to remove barriers that keep people from being able to eat healthier and being more physically active,” Lowry said. “Transportation is often brought up as one of the most common barriers for people to get to where they need to go, whether that’s a grocery store, doctor’s appointment and employment.”

Employing mass transit also helps reduce emissions, thereby improving air quality, and encourages people to walk more, from their home to the bus stop and, after the bus ride, to their destination.

Following public input meetings the library hosted earlier this year for WRTA, the system is expected to unveil new services in September. 

Those services include a new route that will go from Midlothian Boulevard to Youngstown-Poland Road and to U.S. Route 224, ending at the Marc’s store in Tiffany Plaza in Boardman, Harris said. WRTA is increasing the frequency of its Route 224 service from every three hours to hourly.

The system is looking at adding an “Uber-like” service in evenings to cover the Boardman area and connect to WRTA’s nighttime service, he continued. In addition, it is introducing a new smartphone app that riders can use to purchase fare passes without having to come downtown to Federal Station. 

The system already has the myStop mobile app, which allows riders to see the fixed routes in the WRTA system and track the position of each bus on that route. 

Pictured above: Dean Harris, WRTA executive director; Judy Rodriguez, WRTA director of transportation; Aimee Fifarek, executive director, Public Library of Youngstown & Mahoning County; Jennifer Laughner, director of finance; Mirta Reyes-Chapman, transit program manager, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.