STEUBENVILLE - The free rides can't last forever, and Steel Valley Regional Transit Authority is beginning to plan for the return of fares in about six months.
SVRTA began a no-fare year in September, after implementing its pilot service to Wintersville. Because of its good financial conditions and that it wouldn't be charging a fare for Wintersville, the free rides were implemented on its Steubenville and Mingo Junction routes, too.
SVRTA is planning to switch to a fare pass system when the fares return because passes help its ability to obtain and use federal operating grants more than putting cash directly into a bus farebox.
At the March meeting of the SVRTA Board of Trustees, Frank Bovina, transit manager, said it's time to start laying the groundwork for bus pass sales in the community.
The plan is to offer them for sale at various locations, including businesses and public offices.
Bovina said SVRTA could go back to its old fare passes, when the cost was 30 rides for $28 or adopt a new monthly pass or some other price structure that would offer more rides per ticket.
Board member William Hendricks said, "We have to gradually get people back to paying the fares. They have been used to riding for free."
Bovina said it was through hard work by the transit system's employees, and assistance from ODOT and Mike Paprocki, transportation director for the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission, that SVRTA has been in good financial health compared to other transit systems.
He said ODOT has been receptive to helping SVRTA with finding alternative grants to fund projects because other transit agencies around the state have been having a tough time providing local share matches. He also thanked local taxpayers for the levy that supports SVRTA.
He said he hopes to apply for a job-riding grant called a reverse commute access grant about a year from now.
Paprocki updated BHJ on the possibilities for that grant, the progress on installing a central computer for ride scheduling that will share availability of vehicles and trips from SVRTA, Weirton Transit Corp. and several human-services agencies with vans and bus services in the three-county area.
The installation of a new, high-speed fiber optic computer network by Jefferson County, that will include a line from the courthouse to the Department of Job and Family Services offices next door to SVRTA, will make it possible for the network to be housed at the transit system offices.
Paprocki also said area drivers seeking ways to cut spending on fuel who may live beyond the bus service area can use the commuteinfo.org website.
A marketing campaign is under way for the area's ridesharing program.
Paprocki said the service is not only for people seeking to share rides to and from work in Pittsburgh but also can match riders who live and work within the BHJ area.
Commuters access the website, post some basic information about their daily trips and can be matched with other riders who share similar routes and times.
(Giannamore can be contacted at email@example.com.)