The county has a public transportation problem, and the Union County Health Department (UCHD) wants to fix it.
Shawn Sech, UCHD’s director of health promotion and planning, said there is a distinct need for transportation for consumers and seniors in the county. She said after analyzing a community health assessment conducted in 2015, the UCHD found at least 5,000 people in the county, or 10 percent, have issues with transportation.
She said the department is looking for solutions that will determine how much of the population it helps and if it’s going to continually work. Ideas have been speculated on and solutions for the near and far future are in the works.
Sech said two major components to the transportation problem involve a lack services provided and a general knowledge of accessing affordable transportation providers.
“There’s not a one-stop solution to every transportation need,” Sech said.
She said the UCHD was able to identify these components had affected people’s ability to maintain employment, quality of life and getting seniors to where they need to go without out-of-pocket expenses.
“We’ve had some conversations with some businesses as well that have stated they can get candidates there for an interview or get them to show up for orientation, but then they fade away,” she said, adding transportation access is cut off because of people only finding temporary transportation to work and the lag in receiving paychecks interfering.
She also said services like UCATS are already available, but non-medical trips cost the person money out of pocket. The “cost could be prohibitive to do that thing.”
Sech said after the UCHD did research, it had visited some options of controlling the problem.
One idea looked into was a partnership with the “rural Uber” program Liberty Mobility Now.
The service would have provided transportation for a low rate because it would be subsidized by community partners. The department signed a contract with the company in July, but then the company went bankrupt earlier this year.
Sech said the department is trying to talk to an Uber representative for a partnership. She said Uber could join with community partners, such as healthcare providers, to establish an account for people to request rides. She said it would be inspired by the services Liberty Mobility Now would have provided.
She said the UCHD is also aware of hurdles to using Uber, such as seniors not having the technology to request rides. She said this is all still in planning at the moment.
Another idea was EmpowerBus, a Columbus-based service that transported people to grocery stores in a cost-effective manner. She said the department is looking into how it could work in the county.
In order to get these ideas implemented, she said the department is looking into hiring a mobility manager, or a health planner.
The mobility manager would create partnerships with outside transportation providers and educate the public about what options they have. She said the department hopes to hire one by July.
She said the mobility manager would ultimately work to improve the transportation system as a whole and expand it to more than one provider.
“UCATS does a very good job at taking care of their clientele, but as we’ve identified, they don’t have any evening or weekend hours,” Sech said. “That‘s something the mobility manager would look at, do data analysis of or develop a feasibility study on how we can improve the transportation system itself.”
For what the UCHD has to work with, Sech said it has active transportation programs to rely on for now.
The department is working on a program that would establish a bike path connecting to the Mental Health and Recovery Board and other facilities. It would allow community members to rent bicycles and provide a means of getting to each location.
Also in the works is improving biking and walking paths in the county.
A bike path is being expanded that would be stretched from Marysville to Plain City. It would help residents with transportation to services and employment while still allowing for recreational use.
The active transportation programs are inhibitive to some residents, but Sech said it’s all an part of the continually improving goal of providing reliable and accessible transportation for all.
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