Kimberly Beane regularly rides the No. 6 Metro bus to and from her home in Akron and workplace of six years in Springfield.
Beane, 33, a crew trainer at a McDonald’s restaurant, said reliable bus service is important to her. She typically needs to be at work by 7 a.m.
“If the bus wasn’t here I wouldn’t be able to get to work. Seven miles is a really long walk,” she said Monday.
Beane was among numerous Metro Regional Transit Authority bus riders who unexpectedly found themselves part of what the authority billed as the “Official-ly on Board” program that involved elected officials from around Summit County talking with and quizzing riders.
“What I’m reminded of is how critically important this is,” said Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro, one of the public officials who took part in Monday’s event.
About 2:30 p.m., Shapiro boarded the No. 6 bus at the Lakemore Plaza shopping center off Canton Road and, along with others including Lakemore Mayor Rick Justice, rode to the central Transit Center in Akron where the group got on another bus.
Among the riders Shapiro and others in the group struck up conversations with was Amyea Knox, 18, a Springfield High School senior, who was returning home and takes the No. 6 bus daily. She lives near East High School in Akron and gets the Metro bus about 6:30 a.m. for what is about a 25-minute ride to school.
Knox, who is in her second year of taking college credit courses and was just accepted at New York University, said she also needs to take a bus to her after-school job in Hudson. Both of her parents work 50 to 60 hours a week and don’t have the time to drive her, she said.
“Without the bus I would be sitting at home,” Knox said.
Sherri Bower, a regular No. 6 bus rider, said Metro bus service allows her to see family.
“I’m not able to work. I use it to get to my mom’s or to get my granddaughter to the doctor,” she said. Bower, an Akron resident, said she rides the bus three to four times a week.
The No. 6 bus is one of Metro’s core routes — some 18,000 people ride it monthly; Metro averages about 17,000 riders daily systemwide.
Other elected officials who rode buses Monday include Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan, Cuyahoga Falls May Don Walters and Green Mayor Gerard Neugebauer.
Riding along with them was Dawn Distler, who was named Metro’s executive director in September, and some of her staff. She said Monday’s program, with tweaks, was something that was done successfully at her previous job running public transportation operations in Tennessee.
Distler grew up in Akron’s Goodyear Heights neighborhood and was a Metro bus driver, operations manager and assistant director of customer services before moving out of Ohio 15 years ago.
Monday’s program was largely about showing public officials firsthand what bus service means to riders, Distler said.
“We can talk about the importance of public transit to the community,” Distler said. “It’s about everybody, it’s about being equitable. And it’s an investment.”
Distler said public transit is an economic development tool.
Riders have been telling Metro that they would like routes to run more frequently, she said. “And they’d like more service on the weekends.”
About 75 percent of Metro riders say the bus service is their primary mode of transportation, Distler said.
“Today was a great day to learn more about a public service that affects Akron residents daily,” said Akron Mayor Horrigan. “I'm truly encouraged by the future of Metro and I plan on working with the Metro board and leadership to expand our partnership as we strive to even better connect our city.”
Jim Mackinnon covers business and county government. He can be reached at 330-996-3544 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @JimMackinnonABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/JimMackinnonABJ.