By Rick Palsgrove
The wheels will soon be turning for the city of Groveport’s shuttle bus program.
The newly created Groveport Rickenbacker Employee Access Transit program (GREAT) is designed to ease area mass transit issues and bring employees to work in the city’s industrial parks. The program’s target launch date is Oct. 1.
The city established GREAT in response to area businesses having difficulty finding enough employees because some potential employees are unable to work in Groveport’s industrial parks because the city’s transportation needs are underserved by the COTA bus system. City officials said they did not want to lose large employers due to a lack of workers.
“Losing these employers would be detrimental to the city’s financial stability,” said Groveport City Administrator Marsha Hall.
According to city officials, businesses in the city’s industrial parks bring in 95 percent of the city’s income tax revenue.
“The companies GREAT will serve are members of the community though you may never see them,” said Groveport Transportation Director Bob Dowler. “They offer jobs to residents and non-residents alike. The revenue from the industrial development offers Groveport residents a financial base that allows our small city of more than 5,000 people amenities equaled only by much larger cities, like street maintenance, sidewalk replacement, brush pick-up, snow removal, the recreation center, Town Hall, KidSpace and more.”
Hall said the shuttle service will allow employers to hire and retain the portion of their 14,000 plus employees who need or choose to use public transportation.
“It also provides a way for the seasonal and entry level employee to take a job which may help make a better life for their young family,” said Hall. “It provides opportunity. It also helps make our streets safer, with more workers riding the bus and less workers walking. With the ability to ride from home to business, more workers may decide to take the bus instead of driving, which will lower the amount of traffic.”
Routes and ridership
Dowler said three shuttle bus routes are planned, two primarily for Groveport businesses and one primarily for Obetz businesses.
“Obetz has joined in so there will be some mingling in the effort to increase efficiency and reduce overlap,” said Dowler. “We are finalizing the shuttle stops determined to be the best locations to serve the most employers, providing a minimal walking distance, all while keeping our cycle time to under 25 minutes to coordinate with COTA stops.”
According to Dowler, data from COTA shows there are more than 530 passenger drop-offs and pick-ups from their #81 Line between Toy Road and London-Groveport Road as a weekday average.
“This is our initial target ridership. We are confidant that ridership will grow as area businesses grow,” said Dowler.
Groveport will obtain up to four 2016 Starcraft MVP, 28 passenger shuttle buses for the GREAT program from Bus Services, Inc., at a cost of $62,050 per bus with options.
Dowler said the city is not hiring any drivers and is negotiating a contract with Parking Solutions, Inc. for these services.
Costs and funding
Hall said, because GREAT was not originally included in the city’s 2015 budget, officials introduced legislation to fund the 2015 portion of the program.
“While I can tell you that running the program will probably cost close to $500,000 annually for everything, the businesses understand they are being asked to assist in the financing of the program,” said Hall. “Nearly every business we have spoken to has offered their verbal support of the program. We have been upfront of the need for monetary contributions – both start-up and ongoing.”
Hall said 23 businesses were asked to pay a $5,000 start up donation, but will be required to pay a $1,000 annual membership fee beginning in 2016.
“The responses from local businesses has been positive so far,” said Dowler.
Rider tickets for the shuttle bus program will cost $1.25 per ride. Hall said it is assumed most businesses will purchase tickets from the city and provide them to their employees as a benefit.
Another part of the cost of the program is the $54,870 annual salary of the newly created transportation director.
No grant funding has been secured yet for the GREAT program.
“Our partners, COTA and MORPC, know we are eager to include grant funding into this program,” said Dowler. “They have offered their assistance in identifying funding opportunities. U.S. Representative Steve Stivers also offered his support.”
Added Hall, “When you receive a call out of the blue from Representative Stivers’ office asking what they can do to assist us, you realize the importance of a program like this. COTA has indicated they want to use this as a model program for future needs.”
Hall said the village of Obetz committed to be a financial partner since one of the routes will serve some Obetz area businesses. Obetz will pay $38,163 towards the program for the remainder of 2015 and pay a share of the program beginning in 2016.
“As part of their agreement, Obetz will pay for the entire third route, as well as a third of the driver supervisor cost, a third of the operating fee, a third of the fuel cost for the third route, and a third of the cost of the spare shuttle bus. This will save us money as well,” said Hall.
COTA committed to assisting Groveport with marketing development, connections to their own online trip mapping and access to their team of planners, said Dowler. Also, COTA committed to place bus stop shelters at multiple locations where both COTA and GREAT vehicles will stop.
“We have taken delivery of our first of several shelters, at no cost to us,” said Dowler. “The COTA Facilities Street and Remote Team along with Groveport’s Public Works Department are making these contributions possible.This is COTA’s core business we are stepping into and having their support is invaluable. Parking Solutions Inc. helped us take this from a concept to something tangible. MORPC is also valuable in pledging their commitment to assist us in finding ongoing funding.”