RTA weighs changes to service, routes, fares

Greater Dayton RTA is eliminating routes and adjusting services to deal with a bus driver shortage. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Greater Dayton RTA is eliminating routes and adjusting services to deal with a bus driver shortage. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Faced with bus driver shortages, declining ridership and increasing costs, the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority is considering permanent service reductions, route changes and fare hikes.

RTA officials say the proposed changes initially could result in more connections and longer travel times for some riders.

But “these options impact the least amount of riders and prepare RTA for the future to grow service as more drivers are hired,” said Bob Ruzinsky, CEO of the transit agency.

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Greater Dayton RTA is hiring bus drivers. Agency officials say they are facing a severe shortage of bus drivers, which has led to route eliminations and other service changes. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Greater Dayton RTA is hiring bus drivers. Agency officials say they are facing a severe shortage of bus drivers, which has led to route eliminations and other service changes. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Greater Dayton RTA is hiring bus drivers. Agency officials say they are facing a severe shortage of bus drivers, which has led to route eliminations and other service changes. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Greater Dayton RTA’s ridership was down about 50% in January compared to January 2020, before the COVID-19 crisis hit and caused major disruptions and radical changes in consumer behavior.

Since February 2020, RTA ridership has declined year-over-year in 23 of the past 25 months, according to agency data, and fixed-route route patronage is the primary driver of this trend.

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Greater Dayton RTA continues to see its ridership decline. DAYTON DAILY NEWS

Greater Dayton RTA continues to see its ridership decline. DAYTON DAILY NEWS

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Greater Dayton RTA continues to see its ridership decline. DAYTON DAILY NEWS

Falling ridership is a major concern, but transit officials say their top priority is addressing a severe shortage of bus drivers.

Greater Dayton RTA had 248 fixed-route bus operators in June but now only has 196, said Rick Bailey, the agency’s manager of planning and service development.

“We still see a downward trend in recruiting and retention,” he said.

Primarily in response to a lack of drivers, the RTA temporarily reduced service in June and then temporarily reduced service and hours in October, Bailey said.

The RTA is considering making some service changes permanent, like abolishing routes that were eliminated due to COVID and staffing challenges.

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The Greater Dayton RTA downtown hub along South Main Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

The Greater Dayton RTA downtown hub along South Main Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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The Greater Dayton RTA downtown hub along South Main Street. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Eliminated routes were 3, 5, 23, 24, 64, 65, 66, X1A, X1B and X5. Officials said those routes had low usage and resources would be better put toward services with higher utilization.

The agency proposes slightly reducing its buses’ hours of operation on most days, so they would run 6 a.m. to midnight Monday through Sunday.

Sunday service would run until midnight, instead of the current cut off of 10 p.m., to serve customers who increasingly work weekend shifts. RTA says it wants to improve service to employment centers.

The RTA also proposes realigning Routes 9, 11, 12, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 34 and 43.

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Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

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Greater Dayton RTA’s fixed-route buses had about 5.1 million riders in 2021, which was down 13% from 2020, according to agency data obtained by the Dayton Daily News. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Some proposed adjustments would be minor tweaks, while others are more substantial.

Proposed service changes align with RTA’s system redesign and long-term service planning efforts, and customer feedback was used to help develop the plans, said Ruzinsky, the RTA CEO.

“The plans were determined based on an analysis of ridership on routes and duplicative service coverage,” he said.

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The RTA Hub on Main St. was busy on Wednesday with people coming and going to work. The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority announced it will temporarily reduce service because of rising absences likely due to COVID and lower ridership during the public health crisis. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

The RTA Hub on Main St. was busy on Wednesday with people coming and going to work. The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority announced it will temporarily reduce service because of rising absences likely due to COVID and lower ridership during the public health crisis.  JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

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The RTA Hub on Main St. was busy on Wednesday with people coming and going to work. The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority announced it will temporarily reduce service because of rising absences likely due to COVID and lower ridership during the public health crisis. JIM NOELKER/STAFF

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

The proposed changes also will improve drivers’ schedules and will help address the labor shortage, Ruzinsky said. Heavily used routes would have buses run more frequently as demand increases.

RTA also is looking at increasing its fares at a time when fare revenue has plummeted and costs have risen.

The agency collected $5.1 million in customer payments in 2021, down 20% from 2020 and 45% from 2019.

RTA proposes increasing the cost of a single trip and daily cap by 50 cents to $1, and the monthly cap could increase to $75 from $55, said Brandon Policicchio, RTA’s chief customer and business development officer.

Reduced-rate fares could increase by 25 to 50 cents for single trips and daily caps, he said.

These changes would seek to account for increased costs of providing services, Policicchio said, adding that the last major fare update was in 2018.

The RTA says all of its costs have gone up, including fuel, parts and supplies and wages and benefits.

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Greater Dayton RTA's proposed fare changes. CONTRIBUTED

Greater Dayton RTA's proposed fare changes. CONTRIBUTED

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Greater Dayton RTA's proposed fare changes. CONTRIBUTED

Some RTA customers say they oppose many of the proposed changes.

Liz Sager, 49, who rides the bus several times each week to run errands, said route and service changes have resulted in significantly longer wait times for the bus and she doesn’t want RTA raise its prices.

“It has a huge impact on me — I spend a lot of time waiting,” she said.

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Greater Dayton RTA is eliminating routes and adjusting services to deal with a bus driver shortage. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Greater Dayton RTA is eliminating routes and adjusting services to deal with a bus driver shortage. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

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Greater Dayton RTA is eliminating routes and adjusting services to deal with a bus driver shortage. CORNELIUS FROLIK / STAFF

Robert Mathis, 60, said he’s displeased that prices for everyday services and items are climbing, like bus fares, gas, groceries and cell services.

Mathis, who has not driven a car in eight years because of medical issues, said he has to take the bus to get to work, and he said this seems like more “corporate gradual price-gouging.”

Consumers are already squeezed to breaking point, Mathis said, adding that he thinks some community members will take fewer bus trips or will walk or bike more places if fares increase.

RTA stresses these are just proposals and it is still gathering public input. The agency held in-person and online public hearings about the proposed changes late last month.

The RTA is accepting feedback through April 15, and comments submitted to speakup@greaterdaytonrta.org or people can call (937) 425-8339.

Comments can be mailed to Greater Dayton RTA, Attn: Planning & Service Development, 4 S. Main Street, Dayton, OH 45402.

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