By Rachel Leland
The McLennan County representatives voted unanimously in favor of a new rural transit system Thursday evening at the McLennan County Courthouse.
Commissioner Ben Perry said the contract with the Waco-Transit System will expand the current routes and provide more vehicles for citizens in McLennan County.
Rural transit is provided by the Heart of Texas Council of Governments. McLennan County pools money with five other counties to service citizens in all five of the counties.
According to County Judge Scott Felton, McLennan County provides 30 percent of the funds for these services.
Representatives said they partly supported this partnership because the new rural transit district will boost the economy by providing better transportation for workers in rural communities.
John L. Hendrickson, general manager of the Waco-Transit System, represented his company at the meeting. The company also operates the Baylor University Shuttle.
Since Waco-Transit already services the city of Waco, they plan to combine the rural transit with the city transit, in order to service more people.
Hendrickson’s presentation pointed to shortcomings in the service of the current provider of rural transit, Heart of Texas Council of Governments.
Under the current service, trips must be scheduled two days in advance and the service is operable only from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Only two vans are designated for McLennan County with the current provider.
Because the service is only provided on weekdays, those who work over the weekend cannot use the rural transit services.
“Large number of routine trips are provided,” Hendrickson said. “That limits the number of other trips that are intermittent trips.”
Waco-Transit has 26 vehicles to service McLennan County when they begin providing service. It will also have standby employees on call in case a driver cannot make it to work, a feature the current provider does not have.
For many people who lived in formerly rural areas that are now classified as newly urbanized, this will provide previously unavailable transportation opportunities.
Cindy Barnett of Chalk Bluff is visually impaired and relies heavily on public transportation. She has been without service since April 2013, after a 2010 census classified her community as newly urban.
But with the Thursday’s decision, transportation may again be provided to Barnett and her community.
“In my opinion the whole McLennan County needs to be provided with good public transportation and that’s what they’re trying to do”, Barnett said.
Visually impaired citizens are not the only people who will benefit from the contract with the Waco-Transit. The new agreement will also help older citizens who can not drive and other people with disabilities.
“Especially as we’re starting to see the baby boomers get older,” Hendrickson said. “We’re recognizing more disabilities that prevent people from being able to operate vehicles, public transportation and walkable, livable communities is important to us to keep our competitive edge as a nation.”
The proposal will make it easier for those living in rural areas, who make the majority of Waco’s workforce, to travel to the city, said Waco mayor Malcolm Duncan.
The new contract will make transportation easier to and from Baylor’s campus for rural residents.
“We have professors that live in the rural area or workers that work in the dining facilities and then they can access that service to get to the Baylor campus,” Hendrickson said.
Hendrickson said he was pleased with the unanimous vote to contract with Waco-Transit. He also said council members see restructuring local transportation systems as imperative to the growth of McLennan County.
“I think the unanimous support shows that everyone realizes there is a need for these types of services,” Hendrickson said. “And that everyone is starting to see the benefit of these types of services. And so as we move forward as a country and then as a state and then as a community we’re starting to see the importance of this.”
An exact date for when Waco-Transit will begin providing service has not been decided.