Newark officials want to know what people think about the city's public transit system, and they aim to find out during two public hearings being held this week.

Newark officials want to know what people think about the city's public transit system, and they aim to find out during two public hearings being held this week.

"The city has had a transit program in a taxi-cab format since the mid-1980s," said Judith Carr, director of Newark's community-development department. "Our contract expires at the end of this year, and we're putting out an RFP (request for proposal) to look at the system for Jan. 1."

The two public hearings are being held from 2:30 to 4:40 p.m. on the following dates:

Monday, Sept. 29, at the Licking County Library (formerly Newark Public Library) conference room, 101 W. Main St., in downtown Newark.

Tuesday, Sept. 30, at the Heath Municipal Building, in Heath City Council chambers, 1287 Hebron Road, Heath.

Carr said the city contracts with Yellow Cab and Williams Transport for services. The cabs' primary customers are adults, but Williams Transport provides transportation for those with special needs. Carr said Williams operates five city-owned vehicles through the program.

Individuals may purchase tokens at $3 for adults and $1.50 for the elderly and disabled. When people call either company for transport, they may use the tokens to take them a particular distance.

One of the problems the city has is the limited coverage area.

"Our zone does not go through the entire boundaries for Newark and Heath," Carr said. She said one of the proposed changes would be to increase the transit system's coverage area.

Another proposed change could increase fares, which haven't changed since 1998.

"We have funding issues like everyone running a public transportation system in the country is facing," Carr said. "Those of us in the industry are particularly grappling with rising fuel costs, and the state government has cut funding to public transit by 70 percent since 2001.

"We have not changed our rate for tokens in this community since 1998," she said. "We know we're going to have to increase our rates."

Carr said the department last week still was trying to determine how much of an increase is needed: perhaps up to $4 or $5 for one token.

Another question for the public is about hours of operation.

"We operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said, saying Cleveland as the only other public transit system in the state with that schedule.

"We know we have to change our hours, and we want to see what people have to say," she said.

The city pays $1-million annually for the public transit system, with all funding coming from federal transportation dollars, grants and rider fees.

"We need to get local support from general revenues of Newark and Heath," Carr said. "We're moving toward getting some revenue from the local cities, but we understand that we all are struggling financially with the economy."

The city's public transit system provided 200,000 rides last year, Carr said.