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Reimagining public transit: Choosing the best drive forward

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Reimagining public transit: Choosing the best drive forward

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today marks the first in a series of stories this week that examine issues surrounding public transportation in Richland County.

MANSFIELD — How can we improve public transportation in Mansfield and throughout Richland County?

That was a common theme this fall during the six "Talk the Vote" sessions Richland Source conducted leading up to the Nov. 2 election. Many of you asked about the topic, just as you did during similar sessions in 2019.

The need for public transit is not surprising since many residents depend on buses to get to work, medical appointments, social service meetings, shopping and much more.

Sadly, not much is often publicly discussed about local public transit, how it's funded and how it works (or doesn't).

We posed questions to all eight candidates for Mansfield City Council during our "Meet the Candidates Night" at Idea Works. Every candidate expressed a desire to improve local public transportation.

Talk the Vote

The topic of public transit was one of several that came up frequently during this fall's "Talk the Vote" sessions, including this one at The Renaissance Theatre in downtown Mansfield.

We will present your thoughts on public transit and a variety of other topics to Mansfield City Council as part of our "Citizens Agenda" when council resumes meeting in January. Our plan is to report on those topics as we get deeper into 2022.

"Talk the Vote" and the "Citizens Agenda" were made possible through a grant from the Solutions Journalism Network, which has continued to help fund our local, independent journalism.

Most of the pre-election discussion was focused on Richland County Transit, the only truly local public transportation service, a fleet of buses that serve primarily the City of Mansfield, as well as other smaller communities like Ontario and Shelby and parts of Madison Township.

You asked about expanded hours. Evening service. Weekend bus availability. An expanded route footprint. Greater frequency on important bus routes. Greater usage of smaller buses. How to grow a currently declining and/or stagnant ridership.

We heard your questions, your comments and your concerns and have attempted to get answers from local officials -- and from transit experts from far outside Richland County.

Over these four days, we will explore the state of public transit in Mansfield and Richland County -- and will also tell you about communities where the process seems to be working better, or at least differently.

Here is what we have planned:

Tuesday, Dec. 28 -- What is the current status of Richland County Transit? How does it operate? How is it funded? Where does it operate? Who is in charge? As part of that coverage, we will take a look back into history and find out where public transit started locally.

Wednesday, Dec. 29 -- We will explore the important strategic planning effort RCT has scheduled in 2022, the first such in-depth look in at least a decade. Transit officials are counting on vast public input into the project, which will help determine the future of the system. We will also take a look at nearby Licking County, which did a similar planning project in the past few years. In addition, we will travel outside the state and examine the great success experienced in Iowa City, Iowa, a city of about 75,000 people, which recently made significant changes to its public transit system after a lengthy study.

Thursday, Dec. 30 -- We will ask Mansfield and Richland County leaders their thoughts on the state of public transit and what ideas they have for improved funding and services. We will also tell you about an out-of-the-box transportation hub being pondered in Johnstown, Ohio, a plan that could impact Knox County. We will finish with a look at public transit efforts around the United States.

Once the series is complete, and a New Year begins, we will carefully document the 2022 RCT strategic planning process. We will keep you informed along the way, enabling you to participate in the process.

This four-day series is not the end of our look at local public transit. It's just our jumping off point. We hope you will ride with us on this journey, another continuing example of Richland Source doing journalism with you.

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City editor. 30-year plus journalist. Husband. Father of 3 grown sons and also a proud grandpa. Prior military journalist in U.S. Navy, Ohio Air National Guard. -- Favorite quote: "Where were you when the page was blank?"