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Akron METRO RTA riders may see faster service, longer walks to bus stops starting Sunday

 Akron Metro bus rider gets on bus
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Brent Wilson, a regular Akron METRO bus rider, gets on the bus to go to an appointment across town on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. Wilson uses a walker to get around and is concerned about having to walk farther to get to bus stops when the agency rolls out new routes starting June 4.

Bus riders in Summit County are preparing to take new routes starting Sunday.

Akron METRO RTA’s Reimagined Network is the agency’s first overhaul of public transit routes in 20 years, CEO Dawn Distler said.

The main goals of the redesign are to cut down wait times for regular riders and expand service to surrounding counties, she said.

“We have been able to put together a whole new plan that helps the buses to run faster, to come more often, and actually to go places, too, and have connections to places we haven’t had before,” Distler said.

The redesign has been two years in the making, she added. Officials hired outside consultants and gathered numerous rounds of public feedback to determine new routes, Distler said.

 Dawn Distler shakes hands with bus driver
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Dawn Distler, CEO of Akron METRO RTA, shakes hands with bus driver Wayne Cole at the RKP Transit Center on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

Starting June 4, the agency will add five new routes with 15-minute bus service: West Market Street, South Arlington Street, East Exchange Street, Grant and Brown Street and Euclid Avenue, Diagonal Road and Vernon Odom Boulevard.

METRO will also launch new regional connecter routes that will take riders to and from Kent, Brimfield and parts Cuyahoga County.

During the redesign process, METRO officials learned there’s a demand for these routes because riders are frequently traveling to these areas for work or school, Distler said.

“This is going to allow more people to have more access to jobs, have more access to higher education, as well as some of the high schools and even middle schools that we didn’t serve before,” she said. “There’s a huge employment area that goes up through the northern part of Summit County, and we’re going to take a bus up there and then connect that with the southern part of Cuyahoga County and connect that with Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority.”

Those routes will run through Hudson, Twinsburg, Stow, and Macedonia and continue on to Northfield, before ending at Greater Cleveland RTA’s Southgate Transit Center in Cuyahoga County.

“I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with Akron METRO RTA in providing integrated and innovative transportation solutions that increase service across the region, and enhances the riding experience for our customers,” India L. Birdsong Terry, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s CEO.

All Akron METRO bus service, except for the three regional routes, will be expanded through Saturdays and Sundays, Distler added.

 Dawn Distler talks to bus driver
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron METRO CEO Dawn Distler (right) chats with bus driver Greg Steineck at the RKP Transit Center Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

Distler has heard predominantly positive feedback from riders and bus drivers about the redesign, she said -- but not everyone is on board.

On a recent day at the RKP Transit Center in Downtown Akron, several riders expressed some uncertainties about the new routes.

Akron resident Brent Wilson takes a bus across town every day to get to work in Chapel Hill, he said. His regular route is changing and he’ll have to catch the bus at a different stop next week.

Wilson uses a walker to get around, so the farther walk could be difficult for him, he said.

“It’s going to be taking a whole lot to get used to the new routes, and stuff. I might have to walk a few blocks, or so,” Wilson said. “I mean, what can I do about it, you know?”

 Akron resident Brent Wilson waits for a bus at the RKP Transit Center in Downtown Akron Wednesday, May 31, 2023.
Anna Huntsman
Ideastream Public Media
Akron resident Brent Wilson waits for a bus at the RKP Transit Center in Downtown Akron Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

The route changes have been a heated topic of discussion on the buses lately, Wilson said. He’s heard concerns from seniors and individuals with disabilities about the elimination of certain stops resulting in farther walks.

Distler acknowledged that it may take longer for some to get to their new stops. She said on the other hand, officials are adding more stops across the county, which will result in most riders being within a quarter-mile walk to a stop.

Eliminating stops on routes that run parallel to each other allows buses to come more frequently, she said.

“What we did is we took one bus, made it run more often, so it’ll run, like, every 15 or 20 minutes, but you have to walk an extra block to get there,” Distler said.

Distler said riders who have a disability blocking them from taking fixed routes can take advantage of the agency’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transit options, as well as SCAT, a shared-ride service. METRO is planning to expand those options after the rollout of the Reimagined Network, she added.

Additionally, METRO officials will continue to gather feedback from riders and may make changes depending on what they hear, Distler said.

“We’re going to be very fluid on this. We’re going to look, we’re going to see what works; we know there’s some things that are going to need tweaked,” Distler said. “You got to give it time, and give people time to get used to it, but we’re going to continue to change it and make it better.”

METRO bus drivers are adapting to the change as well.

Wayne Cole, a bus driver and president of the local transit union, Transport Workers Union of America Local 1, said drivers are having mixed feelings about learning and operating the new routes.

“Change is difficult sometimes for some people. Others are excited and welcoming it, but we’ll see,” Cole said. “There’s always a little fear in change.”

METRO staff will be at some of the bus stations and stops early next week to assist riders with the changes, Distler added.

METRO is also offering a free online tool for riders to easily figure out how to get to their destinations under the new routes, she said.

Anna Huntsman covers Akron, Canton and surrounding communities for Ideastream Public Media.