Ohio to use fed money to improve rural transit, broadband
The Ohio Department of Transportation plans to use $6.8 million in federal grant money to update technology of rural transit agencies, and increase broadband Internet access in underserved areas.
The grant money awarded to the Transit Tech Ohio project will help rural transit systems throughout Ohio get new or upgraded hardware and software to allow them to schedule and dispatch vehicles more efficiently.
About 34 Ohio transit service areas, including the Lancaster Public Transit System and the Pickaway Area Rural Transit, will receive upgrades. Some agencies lack software and broadband access, while others have software and broadband but need upgrades or new equipment.
By upgrading technology, agencies that offer rides in rural areas can better share their routes and schedules and increase effectiveness, said ODOT spokesman Matt Bruning.
Some rural transit agencies run fixed routes on a schedule, while others may send transportation to a resident who calls to request a ride. The new software should make it easier for riders to make the best choice.
A local VFW post may send a shuttle to take a veteran to a Veterans Affairs clinic, for example, even though a local transit bus may already have a route that heads there, Bruning said. The technology updates are expected to help eliminate those inefficiencies.
Transit vehicles will be equipped with GPS, vehicle-location systems, tablets and mobile-data terminals.
As part of the program, new equipment and technology will be installed on existing towers for wireless broadband and structures owned by the state. If necessary, new towers will be built in some areas. This will expand broadband Internet access to rural areas that currently lack Internet availability or high-speed connections.
The benefits of increased broadband access go beyond rural transportation, said Lindsay Shanahan, executive director for Connect Ohio. The nonprofit group works to expand broadband access in Ohio and fields broadband inquiries from residents throughout the state.
“The hope would be that even if folks don’t use rural transit that ultimately broadband coverage would benefit in these areas,” she said.
The project is expected to take about three years to complete. Some counties in southern and southeastern Ohio that lack both software and broadband access will be first on the list.
“We’re thrilled for what this means for Ohio and its broadband expansion.” Shanahan said.
Better Internet could mean more jobs and economic development, and could generally allow people to be better connected, Bruning said.
Broadband access is “a prerequisite to economic growth,” said John Molinaro, president and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth. Some sites in Appalachia have been a good fit for certain business projects but have been overlooked because of a lack of broadband, he said.
“Broadband access is a critical issue in many parts of our region,” Molinaro said, adding that increased broadband access also helps to ensure children can use the Internet for their schoolwork.
Perry County Transit is one agency in the Appalachian region that will be upgraded. It currently doesn’t have broadband access.
“Imagine growing up a young person and not having access to the Internet,” said Tom Johnson, the director of the Perry County Community Improvement Corporation and the mayor of Somerset. “It’s a cultural barrier that would be hard to overcome.”
From The Columbus Dispatch | November 10, 2015