Webster defines essential as follows–Essential: absolutely necessary; extremely important. When COVID-19 struck, the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) was deemed an essential service by the federal government. Throughout the crisis our team took extraordinary—and extraordinarily heroic—steps to live up to that designation by transporting first responders, health care professionals and other essential employees to work and residents to essential destinations including health care appointments and the grocery store.
By any measure we were the definition of essential: we played an absolutely necessary and extremely important role in enabling our community to weather the coronavirus storm.
“While we’re proud of our performance during the pandemic, in reality, SARTA has been ‘essential’ from the moment our first passenger boarded our first bus on December 1, 1997,” CEO Kirt Conrad said. “That explains why people used our fixed route and demand response services millions of times each year pre-COVID and why ridership, which declined significantly during the crisis, is increasing rapidly as life returns to normal. I’m certainly not surprised by the rebound.”
According to Conrad, in the first eleven months of 2022 ridership is up on 18 of the system’s 34 fixed routes compared to 2021 and the total for the year, which stood at 1,008,330 at the end of November may exceed 2020’s when figures for December are added. ProLine, SARTA’s on-demand paratransit service, is also experiencing year-over-year growth.
“The 2022 numbers clearly demonstrate that people know our affordable, convenient, reliable, and safe service is a great way to reach thousands of locations in Stark County and beyond,” Conrad said. “And as has been the case over the past quarter century, we will make public transportation in this community even better in the years ahead.”
Conrad stated SARTA always has and will continue to utilize a multi-faceted approach to achieve that goal. “First, we constantly assess transit needs and then implement new and enhanced service to meet them,” he noted. “Along with driving decisions about routing, stops, and timing, our evaluation process led to the creation of the employment focused Massillon/Navarre ‘Success Express,’ the launch of our Community Circulator, and the development of the program that transports veterans to the Wade Park VA hospital in Cleveland for free. When we detect a gap in service, we do everything in our power to close it.”
“Second, we are always searching for ways to improve the passenger experience,” Conrad continued. From tools like PinPoint and Google Transit to new, convenient ways to purchase tickets and fares including our Score cards and EZfare we want riding SARTA to be seamless and hassle free.”
“And, finally, we constantly invest in the community. Our new Massillon Transit Center and headquarters facility, zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell bus program, participation and involvement in a wide range of charities and organizations demonstrates our total commitment to improving the quality of life in Stark County and makes it easy to understand why SARTA is regarded as a valuable community asset.”