McLennan County Judge Scott Felton continues to urge the county to establish a local transit district.
If created, the district would redirect state money from the Heart of Texas Council of Governments, currently responsible for rural on-demand transit, to an established interlocal agreement with Waco Transit System in order to broaden on-demand transit service to local rural areas.
Dustin Chapman, the county’s grant coordinator and legal counsel, said establishing a transit district could be a two-month process and begins with the commissioners court inviting the cities within the county to form a committee to determine if there’s a need for a local transit district.
“The conference (committee) must consider whether existing rural transit districts have the capacity to provide public transportation service in that area,” state law says.
The committee would hold a public hearing and, later, vote on whether to establish the new district. If it is approved, the commissioners court would then vote on whether to join the district.
The Texas Department of Transportation must approve the transit district, but Felton said he doesn’t see any problems.
“I don’t know why folks in our county would want me to do anything different,” Felton said.
Felton said he plans to present a timeline to implement the transition to the court within the next month.
“I’d like to expand the access points to the population of the community to more transportation options,” he said. “Have more routes, more custom- designed routes.”
TxDOT is primarily responsible for providing transportation throughout the state and contracts with local entities to provide service.
State, federal funds
The city of Waco, which contracts with Waco Transit Service, receives money from the state to provide service in urban areas. HOTCOG receives money to serve the county’s rural areas.
The city of Waco in the 2013 fiscal year received $400,000 in state money, $2.6 million from the federal government and generated $4.8 million in revenue through bus advertising and corporate contracts.
Rural transit received almost $1.2 million in the 2013 fiscal year, but the money ran out in April 2013, forcing HOTCOG to reduce services.
Felton said the county is only receiving a 30 cent value for every $1 spent on rural transportation. If the new district was created, the county could increase its return to at least $1 value for each $1 spent, he said.
But Waco Transit Assistant General Manager Allen Hunter said those numbers could fluctuate greatly based on the number of trips provided and the amount of advertising revenue Waco Transit can sell.
But if the new revenue streams come in, Waco Transit officials said they could increase rural on-demand trips from 5,000 trips to 34,000 per year.
“To me, this is what’s best for the taxpayers of McLennan County . . . but if someone can show me a compelling reason not do to this, I’m open to listening to it,” Felton said.