Laketran officials reflect on 2019 achievements, look toward future improvements

Chad Felton | The News-Herald

It was, once again, a very busy year for Laketran.

The transit agency’s bustling 2019 was capped off with multiple announcements of good tidings, including, most notably, the November passage of a 0.25 percent sales tax to sustain Laketran’s door-to-door Dial-a-Ride service and to improve transit services to key job corridors.

Remaining focused on its goal of serving the residents of Lake County — while improving the local air quality and reducing dependence on foreign oil by providing public transit service using alternative fuel vehicles — the company’s ambition has also continued to surge, according to officials, who detailed various accomplishments last year.

Tyler Boulevard service

In early 2019, Laketran and Mentor city planners looked for ways to turn the transit system into an economic driver along Tyler Boulevard in Mentor, home to nearly 300 businesses, most of which are involved in light and medium manufacturing.

As a result, Laketran launched transit service along the county’s largest manufacturing corridor, adding to the connectivity its Park-n-Ride service provides between Lake County and downtown Cleveland. The service also assists employers in recruiting and retaining employees from outside labor markets, while improving access.

The Tyler Boulevard operation provided more than 6,000 trips through October 2019 and continues to grow.

“It’s been great to see our Park-n-Ride routes getting people to work in Cleveland as well as here in Lake County, but the challenge of only serving first shift (along Tyler Boulevard) remains,” said Laketran CEO Ben Capelle. “When we first studied this corridor, we concluded a traditional fixed route was the best transit option to serve varying work shifts, but we did not have funding to add that service a year ago. With the passage of our recent levy, we are now going to explore a fixed route option to support these businesses with their workforce needs.”

Senior Center agreement

Addressing the growing concern about senior isolation, Laketran also launched free Dial-a-Ride transportation to local senior centers through a partnership with the Lake County commissioners. The goal of the program is to remove transportation barriers for seniors to access activities throughout Lake County.

“In just the first nine months, the program increased ridership to senior centers by 27 percent,” Capelle said. “This shows how vital having access to public transit is for our seniors.”

Digital fare collection

Focusing on customer experience, Laketran personnel spent the last few years launching real-time tools to track rides, including a Google trip planner and online reservations for Dial-a-Ride customers. These efforts increased in 2019.

Last June, Laketran launched EZfare, a mobile ticketing app that allows Local Route and Park-n-Ride customers to track and pay for their trips from their smartphone.

“For customers who prefer a pre-paid ticket, we really had an antiquated system where passes were purchased online and received two to 10 days later by mail,” Capelle said. “With the mobile ticketing app, customers can now purchase bus passes with a credit or debit card or digital wallet, and then immediately activate the bus pass and ride.

“More than half of our Park-n-Ride customers have converted to EZfare to pay. We continue to see a decline in our website pass sales and an increase using EZfare.”

With funding from a state grant, Laketran will add validators to scan activated bus passes on the EZfare app. The validators will improve the speed of boarding a bus, help compile fare collection and ridership data, and reduce the demand on drivers to assist in fare collection.

The agency has integrated EZfare with Transit app, the nation’s third-largest wayfinding app, to link trip planning and fare payment in one app. Customers can also access EZfare, Request-a-Ride and real-time arrival information through Laketran’s app.

Seeking to provide more efficiency for its growing Dial-a-Ride service, Laketran transitioned to a pre-paid service in late 2019.

“It is very similar to when you book airport transportation,” said Capelle. “You simply pay when you book your trip whether making a reservation online or by phone.”

Laketran added the payment feature to its online reservations program, allowing customers to set up an account to manage their reservations and fare payment.

“Digital fare collection has allowed us to improve the customer experience and reduce expenses,” said Laketran Board President Brian Falkowski. “Providing digital payment options, whether online or through an app, eliminates the need for costly fare boxes and bus passes used now to manage fare collections. This is another example of embracing technology to lower costs and improve operations and customer service.”

2019 levy

According to agency officials, the most “significant” accomplishment for Laketran in 2019 was the passage of the levy that will provide an additional quarter of one percent sales tax the state will begin collecting in April.

The tax will bring in an estimated $9 million of operating revenue to the agency annually for 10 years.

“With the support from our community, residents will see a lot of improvement in transit over the next few years,” Capelle said. “We’re excited to expand our services as well as bring electric bus technology to Lake County to make our fixed route service emission free.

“We work hard to earn the trust of our community in both our service delivery and use of the taxpayers’ dollars, and with these new funds we will be able to meet the growing needs of our residents and businesses here in Lake County.”