MANSFIELD -- Jean Taddie said the system is looking to the future, even as Richland County Transit welcomed three new buses to its fleet on Wednesday.
That future that could include expanded services into the evening hours and perhaps weekends, according to Taddie, who became the Richland County Regional Planning Commission transit development manager in 2020.
"This hasn't even made it out publicly, but we just did get approved and awarded a grant to develop a transit development plan. We have one, but this is going to take a deep dive into all of the partners being served and how we can maximize our federal dollars to serve more," Taddie said.
"We do hear a lot about that second-shift worker trying to get home from work and that third-shift worker trying to get to work," Taddie said after a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially welcome three new 2021 Gillig buses, each of whom can carry 28 passengers.
"So I am certain that's going to be a part of the conversation," Taddie said. "We look forward to addressing everything. Can we increase our service area? Can we increase our service hours?
"Having new buses will allow us to be more flexible going forward," said Taddie, whose role includes grants management and partnership building for RCT.
Each of the buses, which were purchased with a combination of federal and state grant dollars, cost about $450,000 and should last about 350,000 miles over the next decade. No local money was used in the purchases.
"People ask sometimes why we need such a big bus," Taddie said. "COVID has taught us it's helpful and we're able to spread out more. And the smaller buses, while they are less expensive, only last four to five years."
RCT board chair Clint Knight, director of workforce development for Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, said public transportation is crucial for local workers.
"There are a number of people in Richland County that either choose not to drive or don't have the means to have their own transportation," Knight said.
"So having this (public transportation) day in and day out creates an opportunity for them to get where they need be for their job and to support their livelihood," he said.
Jodie Perry, president and CEO of the chamber, helped to host the event at RCT's 232 N. Main St. facility.
"The changes and improvements that you're continually making to the transit system is really important to our community," Perry said.
Richland County Commissioner Tony Vero said the county was fortunate to have a transit agency that provides a fixed-route system.
"For all of us in the community and driving downtown, the buses have become a part of our daily lives," he said. "It's not often that a county of our size has such a comprehensive system and unique service."