County reluctantly asks for funds for public transport
The county took a step toward potential public transport expansion last week despite some hesitation among officials.
The Johnson County Council of Commissioners has approved and signed a grant application that could give the county more than $ 250,000 from Indiana’s Public Mass Transportation Fund to help match federal funds.
The grant is designed to promote and develop public transport across the state, and the money can be used for two types of activities, including operating project grants, to help fund the operations of a transportation service, or investment project grants, to purchase vehicles and ticket boxes and build transit facilities.
The grant requires the county to provide a “dollar for dollar,” according to state documents.
The county has applied for a state transportation subsidy to match a potential federal transportation subsidy, as permitted by Indiana law. Last year, the county received nearly $ 300,000, according to official documents.
If the county gets the grant this year, it gives it the flexibility to add potential requirements for providers, including the number of vehicles used and the location of services, said Ron West, county commissioner.
“It legitimately matches what we’re trying to do,” West said.
The grant would help the county match federal funds through the Federal Transit Administration’s Urbanized Areas Formula funding program.
What the app shows
County officials want to play a more active role in public transport.
For 2022, the county plans to switch to Urban 5307 funds from Rural 5311 funds. The county will continue to offer flexible fixed routes and responsive on-demand services throughout the county as long as funding allows, depending on demand. subsidy.
The county is also aware that the frequency of service and other features may need to be adjusted to stay within budget due to the significant reduction in funding for the first year. The county may need to review pricing structures with key partners, demand says.
County officials hope to increase transit ridership by 10% next year, with the overall goal of returning to pre-COVID-19 ridership levels. The county has also set a target of a passenger satisfaction survey rate of 90% and a punctuality rate of 95%, according to the app.
In addition, county officials plan to collaborate more with major transit partners, take training, and learn more about compliance regulations for Urban 5307 funds. The ultimate goal is for the county to play. a more active role than was previously required, indicates the demand.
Managers plan to solicit additional advertisers, business sponsors and community partners to help generate new and ongoing local sources of funds. By doing this, the county might be in a better position to match state and federal funds. It would also allow the county to maintain long-term service and future growth as needed, depending on demand.
Commissioners concerned about the process
Commissioners were concerned about the process and some said they were forced to apply for the grant before the Friday deadline.
Commissioners Brian Baird and Kevin Walls were concerned the request was signed too quickly. Walls was uncomfortable with the whole process, he said.
“It got rammed down our throats,” Walls said.
It has been in the works for more than two years, but the commissioners were due to make a decision just two days before the deadline for the request, he said.
Baird asked why the state was unable to answer his questions about the speed of the application process.
While the request goes through the state, the funds would be distributed through IndyGo. The funds also cannot be used until the county is able to match a portion of the funds, county officials said.
By requesting the subsidy signals from IndyGo, the county has a matching subsidy for public transportation, West said.
If the county gets the grant, accepts the funds and does not use them, the state will take the funds back. Local pairing is only mandatory once the contract has been signed with a supplier. If the county says no to any contract, IndyGo will go to another county entity to partner for the funds.
Additionally, if the county does not receive the federal grant, it will not use the state grant money.
If the county went through the federal grant process without applying for the state grant, it would lose more than $ 250,000 to help match the federal grant, said Shena Johnson, county attorney.
If the grants are approved, a supplier contract would be submitted to the Commissioners for review.
Debate the need, the opportunities
During the meeting, the commissioners also discussed how the funds could affect Access Johnson County, the county’s sole transit provider.
IndyGo provides service to stops along County Line Road in Greenwood, but does not go further south.
Access has voluntarily provided more than 1.8 million rides since its inception in 1995, said West, who also serves on the agency’s board of directors. The agency does not receive any funding from the county.
By April, Access had already carried more than 45,000 passengers this year, while facing a shortage of drivers who recalled the routes. Access operates 19 buses on five fixed routes with an annual budget of $ 1.7 million.
While the county should provide transportation for people with disabilities, public access is another issue, Walls said. He suggested that people might be using the service to save money, not because they have a real need.
Access is expected to increase its user fees, he said.
West asked the other commissioners what they had done to help public transportation in the county, which is fortunate to have a supplier for which the county government does not have to provide funding, West said.
Johnson County Council member Ron Deer, who attended the commissioners meeting last week, addressed the commissioners.
Deer spent his career in public transport and told commissioners they faced two issues: how to finance it and to whom it should be provided.
At the end of the day, if the subsidies are to be continued, it is losing an opportunity to improve public transportation in Johnson County.
If the county doesn’t raise the funds to match the grants, it doesn’t have to go ahead. If so, commissioners should think about what IndyGo would do if the county did not move forward, Deer said.