The idea of a countywide transit system is gaining traction with local leaders and could be in place by the beginning of the year, County Judge Scott Felton said this week.

Felton said county commissioners next Tuesday will vote on beginning the public input process for a county transit district. They likely would set a November date to meet with city leaders from across the county about how to do it.

Felton said he wants the county to take over a state-federal rural transit grant that the Heart of Texas Council of Governments uses to run vans to pick up riders throughout a six-county region. That system runs on demand like a taxi service, and Felton said the county isn’t getting a good return on it.

“Our taxpayers deserve a more efficient service,” he said.

About a third of the $1.2 million state-federal rural funding for the region is because of the participation of McLennan County, the largest of the six counties. But McLennan County accounted for only 4,518 trips last year, or 11 percent of the total.

“The driving force is to get more ridership within the county by directly accessing the funds that (the Texas Department of Transportation) provides on our behalf to HOTCOG,” he said. “We would be able to have a system that we feel would have very low overhead.”

Waco Transit, which contracts with the city of Waco to provide fixed routes throughout Waco’s urbanized area, clocks more than a million rides a year. The county’s new transit district would contract with the city of Waco for Waco Transit to run fixed routes throughout the county.

Felton said leaders of cities around the county will have input about where those routes should go.

He said McLennan County pulling out of the HOTCOG rural transit district should not harm surrounding counties. He said McLennan County leaders want to offer transfer points at the edges of the county to connect with other rural transit services.

Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr., who has been involved in the transit discussions for the past two years, said a countywide system would help connect residents with jobs.

“I think it’s a real positive step,” he said. “A fixed route would be a huge benefit.”

He said McGregor officials have expressed an interest in service between Waco and the new call center in their town.

Waco Transit General Manager John Hendrickson said expanding the transit system would make it more efficient and more useful to everyone.

“If McLennan County does a rural transit district, it would be an opportunity to enhance our connectivity,” he said.

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