McLennan County commissioners pondered the creation of a countywide rural transit district after county Judge Scott Felton reported Tuesday that he thinks a lack of public transportation has dissuaded companies from locating in the area.

Felton said he has interviewed several “very large companies” that were concerned that there was no well-defined or established transportation system for the county. Those concerns were enough, he said, to keep them from opening in the area.

“Some folks can’t apply for those jobs because they can’t easily get to those jobs,” Felton said.

The proposed countywide district would redirect state money from the Heart of Texas Council of Governments to an interlocal agreement with the Waco Transit System, which operates urban routes. The council of governments is currently responsible for rural on-demand transit.

Felton wants to pursue the plan, and asserted that overhead costs for HOTCOG were eating up a lot of funding for the rural runs, so that every time expenses went up, runs were cut back.

“If [HOTCOG] judges could make a compelling reason why I shouldn’t do that, I’m open for discussion any time, anywhere,” Felton said.

HOTCOG Executive Director Russell Devorsky said the issue of the county leaving its agency to create its own district had not been fully discussed by its board.

“We work for you,” he said. “We’ll do whatever the board directs us to do.”

Immediate benefits

John Hendrix, with Waco Transit, said a countywide rural transit district would provide several immediate benefits, including extended service hours and access for areas that are underserved.

“Those people, in the no-fly zone, I guess is what you could say, would then be served immediately,” he said. “The passengers will see more availability of service and they’ll be able to get where they need to go.”

Hendrix said if the county took this route, it would take a few years to get the program to its highest efficiency level as organizers work through the transition.

“We’re all going to learn together,” he said.

Waco City Manager Dale Fisseler said the new district would make the best use of available funding. Fisseler said the city currently subsidizes Waco Transit, and the hope is that other McLennan County cities would want to participate as well.

Dustin Chapman, the county’s grant coordinator and legal counsel, said if the court desires to create the district, it needs to invite other county cities to form a committee to determine if there’s a need. Chapman said a public hearing then would be held before the concept is voted on. The commissioners didn’t give Chapman any direct orders but indicated they would like to proceed.

The Texas Department of Transportation also must approve the plan.

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