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SARTA, NEORide awarded $1.9 million from FTA IMI Program

The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) was awarded a $1,997,503 Integrated Mobility Innovation (IMI) grant by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The multi-year grant, which will be shared with 10 other transit providers, will fund the purchase and installation of validators for use with the EZfare mobile ticketing platform and ticketing integration with Transit app, data collection and survey research and the development of an innovative alternative payment application that will enable users to pay for transit and other transportation services using their phone or a "smartcard" rather than cash.

In addition to SARTA the following NEORide transit providers will receive grant funding:

  • Butler County Regional Transit Authority (BCRTA)   

  • Laketran                                                                

  • Western Reserve Transit Authority (WRTA)              

  • Sandusky Public Transit 

  • Medina County Public Transit (MCPT)                      

  • Metro RTA (Akron)                          

  • Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA)

  • Lancaster-Fairfield Public Transit              

  • Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK)         

  • South East Area Transit (SEAT)

SARTA President and CEO Kirt Conrad says the IMI project was conceived and will be carried out by a consortium that includes NEORide, a council of governments comprised of 15 transit agencies, Calstart, a non-profit that works with businesses and government to create groundbreaking transportation solutions, Masabi, a fare payments-as-a-service provider and Cleveland State University.

The FTA’s IMI program funds projects that demonstrate innovative and effective practices, partnerships and technologies to enhance public transportation effectiveness, increase efficiency, expand quality, promote safety and improve the traveler experience. Of the 104 proposals submitted, 20 were accepted.

“Our application checked all the boxes,” Conrad said. “We assembled an outstanding team and our vision for the future of public transit exceeds the program’s benchmarks. We’re pleased and proud that we received the second largest grant awarded by the FTA this year.”

Conrad says letters of commitment to the project submitted by numerous agencies and organizations as well as letters of support from local, state and federal officeholders and officials helped influence the FTA’s decision-making process.

“We’re grateful that so many community and civic leaders grasp the importance of public transit in general and this project in particular,” Conrad said. “They played an indispensable role in our success.”

Laketran Executive Director and NEORide Chair Ben Capelle says the IMI project represents an important step forward in NEORide’s drive to develop regional transportation networks that began with the launch of the EZfare mobile ticketing app. “We believe anyone who needs or wants to go anywhere in the communities we serve should be able to use public transit to get there,” Capelle said.  “Grants like this are extremely valuable because they enable small and large agencies to acquire the expensive, state-of-the-art technology that makes it easy, affordable and convenient for people to travel from county to county for any reason at any time.”

Shannon Rine, transit director of Medina County Public Transit and Dawn Distler, CEO of METRO RTA agree. “The expansion of EZfare made possible by the IMI grant will be a real plus for smaller agencies like ours because it will enable us to integrate and coordinate service with METRO RTA and other large systems,” Rine said. “MCPT riders will now have access to job sites, medical facilities, schools, and hundreds of other destinations outside Medina County and people from other areas will be able to use public transit to visit us. We’re really excited about the opportunities for expanded service the grant creates.”

METRO RTA’s Distler says her system is pleased to be a partner in this innovative program.

“This type of a coordination will significantly improve the service we offer today and is key to the future growth of public transit here in Ohio and across the United States. I would like to thank the FTA for recognizing the importance of and investing in groundbreaking projects like this. The agency’s ongoing support is fueling our ability to meet the growing demand for public transit,” Distler said.

During the first phase of the project Masabi’s Just Ride multi-format, contactless, ticket validation devices will be installed in vehicles operated by the participating transit systems. The devices enable passengers to simply tap fare media, including tickets for fares purchased via the EZfare app, on the validator’s screen as they board.

Katherine Conrad, director of Client Services for NEORide, who has been supervising the IMI project from its inception says the contactless feature of the validators wasn’t a major consideration when the planning process began.“But it’s become a major selling point and advantage in the post-COVID-19 world because passengers and operators will not have to physically exchange currency, tickets or passes. EZfare is now both the easiest and the safest way to pay for public transit.”

Conrad notes that survey research conducted by Cleveland State University and usage data collected via the EZfare app and participating agencies are also important components of the IMI project.“The date we collect will enable us to determine how well the app and validators are working, ridership levels, travel times and destinations,” Conrad said. “The survey research will provide valuable insight on transit riders—who they are, why they ride, what they like, what they don’t and what they need. Taken together the information will enable us to plot a clear course for the future of public transit.”

The data will also play a key role in the development of a cash-alternative payment system that will enable people who do not have bank accounts or credit cards to pay for transit service and other purchases using a “smartcard.”“We know that many of our riders don’t have access to banking services that many people take for granted,” said Dean Harris, executive director, WRTA. “We believe Masabi’s technology can serve as the foundation of a payment solution that will enable the riders we transport to stores, restaurants, theatres, and thousands of other places to easily purchase the goods and services they need. It’s just another way for transit to break down barriers and enhance the quality of life for our customers.”



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