McLennan County has taken another step in the process to create a new rural transit district with the support of 13 of the county’s cities.
The commissioners court, followed by the 13 cities, unanimously approved a resolution creating a rural transit district and establishing its boundaries at a public hearing Thursday night.
Voting in favor of the district were representatives from Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Bruceville-Eddy, Golinda, Leroy, Lorena, McGregor, Moody, Riesel, Robinson, Ross, Waco and West.
Letters now will be sent to each of the 24 cities in the county, requesting a nomination of a representative. Those 24, plus the commissioners court, then will meet to select a committee of nine people to oversee the process. One of those nine will include a member of the court, per the statute.
County Judge Scott Felton said funding for the district will come from rerouting the county’s state and federal transit money from the Heart of Texas Council of Governments to the new program that contracts with Waco Transit, which contracts with the city of Waco to provide fixed bus routes throughout the city’s urbanized area.
HOTCOG previously used that money to cover its six-county regional transit program.
John Hendrickson, Waco Transit general manager, said the new rural transit district would immediately provide more service.
“Everyone in McLennan County, regardless of urbanized area or rural area, would have services,” he said.
Hendrickson said there will be a set fare across the county, longer service hours, standby drivers to prevent trip cancellations, same-day trips, Saturday service and more.
“Entry-level workers and people trying to get to medical appointments on a Saturday, there’s no available services for them currently,” he said.
“We have standby drivers if there is an issue with a driver getting sick,” he said, something that is not now available through HOTCOG.
Under HOTCOG management, rural trips must be scheduled at least two days in advance, so trips for Monday must be scheduled on Thursday. Hendrickson said one-day scheduling will be available under the new format, as well as the same-day trip requests.
The new plan also would allow for curb-to-curb service, allowing drivers to pick up residents in front of their houses, Hendrickson said.
HOTCOG now provides 5,000 trips annually, and the new district is projected to have 34,000 trips annually, according to Hendrickson.
Waco Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said he fully supports creation of the new district, noting how many people who work in Waco live outside the city limits.
“We desperately need ways to get them in to those jobs,” Duncan said.
West Mayor Tommy Muska said he would like to see in the future a fixed regular route from West to Waco. Muska said he hopes to get his residents connected with available Waco services.
“I think this would be a great connection to get them to various doctors and agencies they need desperately,” he said.
County Attorney Mike Dixon said a positive about partnering with Waco Transit in this project is that its officials already have representatives experienced in applying for grants and dealing with the federal government and the Texas Department of Transportation.
The county and conference committee now have 60 days to create their committee of nine people before they can move on to the next step, which wasn’t made clear Thursday.
Dixon said the statute to create a rural transit district is “strange” and complicated. By the time the committee of nine is created, there will be a clearer understanding of what must happen next.
Matthew Meadors, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce president, submitted a letter for Thursday’s meeting expressing his support of the district.
“The ability to efficiently move workers to the workplace, health care facilities and educational institutions to improve skills is critically important to the continued growth and development of our area,” he wrote.