Delaware County Transit hopes to develop a strategic plan by early next year, but it won't be the agency's last word in keeping pace with Delaware County's public-transportation needs.

Because of the county's continuing growth and changes in the transportation industry, the transit system's strategic plan will have to be fluid and flexible, said executive director Denny Schooley.

A goal, he said, is to ask if the services provided in the past are "still what works for us in the future ... As we move forward with the strategic plan, what we want to do is ... figure out what services the community needs and how we can best serve them," Schooley said.

Since last year, Delaware County Transit -- formerly known as Delaware Area Transit Agency, or DATA -- has collected input through meetings and surveys to gauge the public's needs and wants, he said.

It also was last year that the system developed value and mission statements, as well as focus areas for the strategic study.

"One of the things we juggle is service versus quality of service," he said.

He described a hypothetical scenario in which the cost to take a bus from Ashley to Delaware is the same as riding it from Delaware to Polaris.

If four children want to travel to Polaris to see a movie, he said, on one hand, that would yield more cost-per-passenger efficiency than having a single passenger in the vehicle.

But if that single passenger is an Ashley resident who needs dialysis treatment in Delaware, he said, "from a quality standpoint, it's probably better to make the one medical trip."

Providing immediate and convenient transportation to all would cost "millions and millions of dollars," he said.

"We want to be able to serve the most people in the most efficient manner, and make sure we're serving the community," Schooley said.

Delaware County Transit is working with a software company to develop a program to allow the public to schedule rides online or with a phone app, he said.

The goal will be to let users see where their bus is at any given moment and when it will arrive at their location, he said.

Another goal is to add the ability to text or call users when a bus is on its way to their location, Schooley said.

Depending on how quickly the software is developed, the service could be available early next year, he said.

One possible service might be helping people schedule transportation with other providers, he said, such as Uber and Lyft or cab companies.

Schooley said Delaware County Transit has 21 vehicles and averages about 6,400 passengers a month, but some people don't know the agency exists.

The system recently acquired a 30-foot bus -- its largest. Its uses have included shuttling visitors to Main Street Delaware's First Friday events from the county parking lot on North Union Street.

Schooley said staffers have been downtown and have heard people who saw the bus say they didn't know public transit existed in Delaware County.

Delaware County Transit has four fixed routes inside the city, with another that operates along U.S. Route 23. People see the shorter buses on those routes and assume they aren't public transit, Schooley said.

He said Delaware County Transit has a great relationship with Main Street Delaware, and the First Friday shuttle service "has been a great thing for us."

The system partnered with Main Street Delaware to shuttle about 136 passengers to this year's Little Brown Jug harness race during the county fair.

It also provides rides from four sites in the county to a COTA park-and-ride in Columbus, from which riders can travel to Ohio State University home football games.

The service was launched last year and has attracted more riders this year, he said. The pickup locations are the Meijer stores in Delaware, Lewis Center and Westerville, and the Kroger store in Sunbury. All Delaware County Transit routes, services and fees are listed on its website, www.ridedata.com.

Public transportation across Ohio, he said, will benefit from the fact the most recent state two-year budget includes $163 million for public transportation from the general fund.

Schooley said the amount of state money dedicated to public transportation is more than usual. It will help Delaware County Transit recover from funding lost when it was reclassified from a rural to an urban transit system, he said.

The system's state funding fell from about $100,000 annually to about $50,000 when that happened, he said.

Delaware County Transit also receives funding through the Federal Transit Administration.

Its website lists other funding sources as SourcePoint, Delaware County, Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Delaware County Jobs and Family Services, Delaware Morrow Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, COTA, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Ohio Public Transit Association and American Public Transportation Association.

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