RTA Launches 'Microtransit' Experiment in Solon to Bring Riders 'To The Front Door' of Jobs

The first-mile, last-mile pilot program has a new shuttle dropping riders off directly at nearby employers

click to enlarge The RTA's 19 bus arrives at the Southgate Transit Center on Thursday. Southgate is the host of the RTA's microtransit experiment, which will deliver riders to the 'front door' of their offices. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
The RTA's 19 bus arrives at the Southgate Transit Center on Thursday. Southgate is the host of the RTA's microtransit experiment, which will deliver riders to the 'front door' of their offices.

Aiming to close public transportation gaps in the east side suburb, RTA celebrated the arrival of its microtransit pilot on Thursday morning at the Southgate Transit Center in Solon.

The ribbon cutting ceremony, which attracted local and state politicians, marks the start of a first-mile, last-mile experiment in which RTA will provide shuttle transport from its Southgate stop directly to the front door of nearby employers. A goal, according to a previous statement, of "alleviating long, sometimes unpleasant walks from RTA bus stops to work locations and back."

Starting officially in December, and running until 2025, RTA will fund half the service cost—up to $300,000, part of which includes public dollars—that Southgate transit takers have for the final leg of their commutes; the other half will be paid by participating companies.

A risk, India Birdsong-Terry, RTA's CEO, said from a covered tent at Southgate on Thursday, she's willing to take.
click to enlarge RTA CEO India Birdsong-Terry speaks at Southgate on Thursday. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
RTA CEO India Birdsong-Terry speaks at Southgate on Thursday.
"Transportation is not just buses and trains," she said. "We're economic development. We're an engine that is supposed to support the Cleveland area, the citizens that live within it, and also the businesses that support it."

Solon residents aren't regular transit riders: Nearly 84% of Solon residents hop in their car to get to work, while just a half percent takes public transportation. (That number is about 9% for Clevelanders.)

But, regardless of the general and overwhelming reliance Northeast Ohioans have on their sedans and SUVs, a significant portion of county residents live in a household that either doesn't own a car or owns only one. And residents who work at job centers, like Solon, are often left with gaps in service. RTA's "competitive" shuttle bus route can be seen as a part of Cuyahoga County's attempt to solve that longstanding issue.

Late last year, the county partnered with RTA on its Transit-Oriented Development study, which showed that $290 million of growth was spent in pockets of the county in close proximity to train or bus stops. And just this week, County Executive Chris Ronayne announced the hire of the county's first transportation director, Annie Pease.

Citing his track record of touting public transit—Ronayne, as University Circle, Inc. president, was a huge backer of Little Italy's Red Line stop—he touted his support of Southgate's upgrade as another notch in transportation progress.

"I worked two years with the county commissioners on the matters of bridging the gap to get to work," he said at the press conference. "We learned then that it would [help to] think about your own daily life, the everyday, various lives. If you don't have daycare or near daycare, it's hard to get to work, right? If you don't have—and here's my segue to RTA— transportation, you're going nowhere."

As for why Solon was chosen as the location for the pilot,  officials cited Southgate's nexus at the 41, 40, 19 and 90 lines, making it a good potential booster for nearby suburbs.

So far, RTA has not disclosed how they will market the microtransit, last-mile perk to nearby residents in Maple Heights or Warrensville Heights, where, on average, 10% of the population is carless.
click to enlarge Solon Mayor Ed Kraus, who has been championing a microtransit project in the city since 2018. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
Solon Mayor Ed Kraus, who has been championing a microtransit project in the city since 2018.

Solon Mayor Ed Kraus, five years after microtransit talks began, is excited about Southgate's new era. With 900 or so businesses operating within his city—especially large employers like Nestle and Swagelok—Kraus said he's confident RTA, and their partner SHARE Mobility, will be able to convince HR departments to advertise said transit perks to workers, both current employees and hew hires.

"When positions go unfilled, there's a single position that goes unfilled," Kraus said. "Products can't be produced, they can't be transported worldwide. The cost to the employer is in the millions of dollars. With these unfilled jobs, with this connection now dropping workers off at the front door, companies can start filling orders again."

Kraus nodded to Mitch Bhandari, a general manager at Wrap-Tite, a packaging supplier based on Cochran Road.

While Wrap-Tite already has a commuter benefit in place for existing employees, only 10% of those at the Solon office make any use of it—probably, he said, due to Solon's unwalkability, and the obvious fact that, like most American suburbs, Solon is not designed for the pedestrian.

But, the money saved staying carless, Khandari added, may be mutually beneficial.

"I mean, it costs anyone $200 to $250 easily a month to come to work [already]," Bhandari said. "So why not more money in their pocket? And why not reduce our cost, too, by bringing [in] new employees?"

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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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