Laketran poised to move forward with multiple projects

By Chad Felton, The News-Herald | Friday, January 11, 2019

Laketran is looking to launch more projects in 2019 after benefiting from multiple accomplishments in 2018, including Campus Loop Route 7 service at Lakeland Community College, and securing federal grants totaling $2.9 million for electric bus funding.

The transit agency also seeks to remain focused on serving the residents of Lake County while improving the local air quality and reducing dependence of foreign oil by providing service using alternative-fuel vehicles.

Tyler Boulevard service

Extending service to another major thoroughfare has been something Laketran has been considering and researching for quite some time, said CEO Ben Capelle.

The agency spent significant time last year working with community partners and local employers to determine how to help recruit and retain employees by improved transportation access to the bustling manufacturing corridor.

“Our evaluations confirmed the need for service and we modeled several different options,” Capelle said. “The best option is traditional fixed route service, but unfortunately, with the significant revenue cuts and the demand on Dial-a-Ride, we cannot afford to operate a true fixed route.

“However, we have capacity on our Park-n-Ride routes to serve the corridor when the buses are commuting to and from Cleveland, so we’ll be adding additional bus stops to Routes 10 and 12,” he said. “The routes will use Tyler Boulevard as they travel to and from Cleveland. We were able to change the times outside the main service, so it will not affect our core customers, but it will allow job seekers in Cleveland to take a Park-n-Ride bus from Cleveland to one of the many businesses on Tyler.”

Lake County residents will be able to transfer from route buses along state Route 306 to access Tyler Boulevard.

“It is not a perfect solution, but it is one we can implement with very little impact on our budget,” Capelle said.

Laketran Board President Brian Falkowski agrees that the need for public transit service along Tyler Boulevard is feedback the agency has acknowledged from employers and companies for a long time.

“Work is a primary destination for many of our riders and we’re excited to be able to expand service to a corridor that can provide a lot of employment opportunities for people in Lake County while supporting local employers,” Falkowski said.

Explore rideshare partnerships

Many transit systems are developing partnerships with rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber to help improve transportation access by offering on-demand options to paratransit riders. Paratransit riders in Lake County must schedule trips two to 10 days in advance for Laketran’s Dial-a-Ride service.

Successful programs have been launched in Las Vegas and Boston, allowing transit agencies to lower the cost of service and alleviate demand on agency’s fleet.

“Consumers expect things instantly today and technology is providing it,” Falkowski said. “It is for these reasons we invested in real-time technology and mobile ticketing. People can’t always schedule their lives a week in advance and I look at this as an innovative way to improve our service delivery for our customers.”

Transit benefit program

Meijer and Amazon, both scheduled to open in late spring, are two transit-friendly employers establishing themselves along Laktran’s Local Routes in 2019.

Amazon’s newest fulfillment site will be located in Euclid on East 260th Street along Laketran’s Route 2, while Meijer, located at the old K-mart site in Mentor, is located along Local Route 1.

“Many of our Park-n-Ride customers take advantage of Transit Benefits, where the cost of your transit passes can be deducted pre-tax from your paycheck, similar to medical and other benefits,” Capelle said. “We want our Local Route bus riders to be able to benefit from that same pre-tax benefit and we plan to reach out to these larger employers.”

LCC Multimodal transfer center

Lakeland Community College’s sustainable center will house the charging infrastructure needed to deploy battery-operated buses in 2020 while also improving access to higher education and job training.

The project will leverage federal, state and local funding to install infrastructure that improves accessibility and safety for Laketran route buses, Campus Loop service, automobile pick-up and drop-off, bicycle transportation, and pedestrian traffic on campus.

“The Clocktower Circle at Lakeland was never intended to be a bus stop for four local route buses, two Campus Loop shuttles, and cars,” Capelle said. “Virtually all of the funding for the project is coming from federal grants through NOACA (Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency) and the Federal Transit Administration.”

Digital fare collection

Laketran has spent the last few years focusing on customer experience, launching real-time tools to track a bus, a Google trip planner and online reservations for Dial-a-Ride customers.

Now, the embracing of technology is continuing. By early spring, the agency will launch a prepayment option for Dial-a-Ride customers to eliminate the need to pay fares when boarding the bus.

“It will be very similar to when you book airport transportation,” Capelle said. “You’ll simply pay when you book your trip. We’ll also be providing an online option to book and pay for your trip at one time to alleviate call volume to the call center.”

For Local Route and Park-n-Ride customers, Laketran will be launching a mobile ticketing app that allows customers to track and pay for their trips from their mobile device.

“For customers who prefer a pre-paid ticket, we really have an antiquated system where you purchase passes online and then we mail them,” Capelle added. “With the mobile ticketing app, customers will be able to add value to their account through a credit or debit card and immediately activate the bus pass and ride.

“We anticipate that collecting fares digitally will reduce our fare collections expenses by about 14 percent. Our goal is to convert as many people as quickly as possible to mobile payment, so we can begin to see the savings.”

Providing digital payment options, whether online or through an app, will eliminate the need for costly fare boxes and bus passes used now to manage fare collections, Falkowski said.

“This is another example of embracing technology to lower costs and improve operations and customer service.”

Launching STS

Laketran is also launching Special Transportation Service, a charter bus-style service available to government and not-for-profit agencies in Lake County.

“Laketran was able to reduce Lakeland’s operating expenses by running their campus shuttle service and we believe there are more partnerships that can create efficiencies for municipalities and agencies,” Capelle said.

“The creation of STS allows us to be more creative and solve problems that we couldn’t in the past,” he added. “Starting this month, we will be assuming the operation of Eastlake’s Senior Center bus. Eastlake has operated their own bus for many years, but buses are expensive to purchase and maintain. This new agreement provides the city of Eastlake a turnkey service where they pay a monthly fee and Laketran provides all of the transportation the city used to.”

Evaluate Route 4 expansion

Laketran has previously discussed with Lake Health the need for improved transit access to TriPoint Hospital, primarily from the eastern region of Lake County.

Capelle said Laketran will also explore options to add frequency and expand its Route 4 bus line into Madison Village and the Concord Township area.