The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday awarded more than $1.8 million in innovative technology grants that Wadsworth-based NEORide will use to improve paratransit services in northeast and southwest Ohio.
NEORide Director Katherine Conrad said her agency, whose members include public transit systems in Cuyahoga, Summit, Medina, Portage, Erie and Mahoning counties, will use the money to develop regional call centers at either end of the state that paratransit riders will be able to use to obtain rides across county lines. She predicted the new “EZConnect” system would particularly benefit rural areas.
“If you are in Trumbull County and need to get to a medical center in Mahoning County or Akron, you would be able to call this one number to book a trip and wouldn’t have to call multiple transit systems,” said Conrad, who expects the service will provide wheelchair users greater access to resources like jobs and education, in addition to medical care. “We have a lot of demand from people who need access to places outside their immediate community.”
She said the project will be set up in phases over the next five years. NEORide will first develop a common phone number and website for use in ride dispatching, and later expand to dispatching rides across county lines. The $1.49 million Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment (ATCMTD) grant NEORide is getting from the Federal Highway Administration and a $338,600 Enhancing Mobility Innovation (EMI) from the Federal Transit Administration will provide “the capital money we need to develop the infrastructure to make this happen,” said Conrad.
The ATCMTD program funds early deployments of forward-looking technologies that can serve as national models, the U.S. Department of Transportation said. So far this year, it has awarded grants valued at $45.2 million to 10 projects using advanced intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies that will improve mobility and safety, provide multimodal transportation options and support underserved communities.
The EMI program supports innovations that give people better options for how to get around and encourage people to get on board, such as integrated fare payment systems and user-friendly apps for on-demand public transportation. So far this year, it has awarded $4 million in grants to nine transit agencies and organizations in six states and the District of Columbia to improve mobility and the experience for transit riders.
“With these grants, the Biden-Harris Administration is helping communities deliver modern transportation systems that connect people to where they want to go more affordably, efficiently, and safely,” said a statement from U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We’re pleased to support these innovative solutions that will improve driving and public transit for Americans in urban, suburban, and rural areas alike.”
NEORide is a council of governments that represents transit agencies in Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Arkansas. It developed Northeast Ohio’s EZfare system, which allows users of 14 public transit systems to use a single app to pay their transit fares. She said NEORide’s goal is to have all the transit systems in the state use the same app.
“EZConnect is built on the success of EZfare,” said Conrad.
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