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Akron Metro RTA redesign looks to get riders where they need to go faster

 A row of Akron Metro RTA buses are lined up on South Broadway Street in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
A row of Akron Metro RTA buses are lined up on South Broadway Street in Downtown Akron.

The Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority wants to cut down the time it takes riders to get to bus stops and wait for buses.

The authority's Reimagine Metro plan is intended to make public transit service more useful and accessible to riders, said Metro RTA CEO Dawn Distler.

"Ninety-seven percent of the riders will be within a quarter mile of a bus stop and 63% of the riders will be close to lines that have more frequent stops," Distler said. "Out of that, 63%, 77% of those are low income riders and 79% of those are are people of color who use the system."

An Akron METRO RTA bus drives along East Mill Street in Downtown Akron.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
An Akron METRO RTA bus drives along East Mill Street in Downtown Akron.

Akron Metro RTA began to reevaluate its service network in 2021 as part of the agency's strategic plan, Distler said. Metro RTA held two public engagement phases in which they received feedback from bus riders, drivers, stakeholders and other members of the community.

"Everybody kind of liked what we had," Distler said, "but they wanted to see more of it and they want it to run faster."

The agency's proposed plan will add five routes with bus service every 15 minutes. These high-frequency corridors will serve the West Market Street, South Arlington Street, East Exchange Street, Grant and Brown Street and Euclid Avenue, Diagonal Road and Vernon Odom Boulevard.

The agency's existing network includes five 30-miunte routes, and the plan will add three more, along with regional connectors to Kent, Brimfield and Cuyahoga County.

All service, except for the three regional routes, will be extended through Saturdays and Sundays.

The route changes will get riders in the region closer their jobs by providing more frequent transportation on those service lines, Distler said.

"This is really filling a need for employees to get to work for the members of the community," Congresswoman Emilia Sykes (D-Akron) said, "to move outwards to other parts of the community and allows them to to live where they want to live and not have to worry about those transportation issues."

Current service at South Akron (Route 11), Richfield/Bath (Route 101), Northfield (Route 102) and Green/Springfield (Route 110) will be discontinued.

The agency is looking for ways to address the lack of service along those routes, Distler said, such as microtransit, where smaller vehicles are used, or ride-share services.

Akron Metro RTA added two electric buses to its fleet in 2022, and will add two more in 2023, Distler said.

The electric buses will allow the transit agency to reduce its carbon footprint, Sykes said, while also saving money in the region.

"It allows for this bus to be powered without using any additional energy sources and saves them money, it saves the community money, the taxpayers money and, again, we're reducing our carbon footprint," she said. "As we're all seeking to be more environmentally friendly and thinking of the jobs of the future, this is the way to do it."

The proposed network plan must be approved by the Akron Metro RTA board of directors, which meets in March. If approved, the plan is to be implemented June 4.

Residents can submit feedback on the plan online through March 1.

Through the final phase of public engagement, Distler said the agency hopes to find out whether the plan addresses the community's needs.

"We've been very intentional of making sure that the people who use the bus are the ones that we're making these changes for," she said, "and that it helps them get to where they need to go in a in the most effective way that we can possibly come up with."

Updated: January 19, 2023 at 5:40 PM EST
This article was updated to include quotes from Congresswoman Sykes, and information on the Akron Metro RTA's electric vehicles.
Zaria Johnson is a reporter/producer at Ideastream Public Media covering the environment.