SARTA-led group receives $1.9 million SMART grant, pilot project has potential to make public transit safest mode of ground transportation in the United States

April 2, 2024

The ongoing drive to make public transit the safest mode of ground transportation in the United State is about to accelerate thanks to a $1.9 million dollar U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant awarded to the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA), the Butler County Regional Transit Authority (BCRTA), the Western Reserve Transit Authority (WRTA), NEORide, and the Ohio Transit Risk Pool (OTRP).

The grant will provide the funds needed to retrofit three vehicles at each agency with state-of-the art collision avoidance technology that is now standard equipment on most passenger vehicles but is not currently available on buses. According to the proposal submitted to the DOT by SARTA and the other agencies, the National Safety Council estimates the technology could reduce the number of serious crashes involving transit vehicles by as much as 60%. If that figure is accurate, it means more than 4,000 injuries and 65 deaths would be prevented across the U.S each year if all transit vehicles were equipped with collision avoidance systems.

“Evaluating the effectiveness of the technology in real-world conditions is the primary goal of the project,” SARTA CEO Kirt Conrad explained. “The paratransit vans and full-size buses retrofit for the project will provide on-demand and fixed route service in urban, suburban and rural settings, in heavy and light traffic, and in all weather conditions for six months. The data we accumulate during that time will enable us to determine if and to what extent the systems enhance vehicle and rider safety.”

“We’re very excited about the project because if the data demonstrates that the technology works as expected it could lead to its widespread and perhaps universal deployment in the United States,” Mr. Conrad said. “And that would bring us miles closer to achieving the goal of reducing the number of transit related injuries and deaths to zero.”

Each vehicle used in the pilot project will be equipped Perrone Robotic’s TonyMax system which includes lidar, radar, cameras, and sensors that will provide operators with alerts and warnings when potentially dangerous situations arise, including at intersections which are the scene of most transit-involved accidents. “Studies show that human error is responsible for 94% of serious crashes,” Mr. Conrad noted. “We are confident this technology and the enhanced training operators will receive in conjunction with its installation will substantially reduce that error rate which will, in turn, make riding public transit safer than ever before.”

It comes as no surprise that SARTA, NEORide, BCRTA, and WRTA are advocating for the widespread use of collision avoidance systems. Since its founding in 2014 NEORide and its members systems, which now number 30 across five states, have become national leaders in the development and deployment of cutting-edge transit technology, including EZFare the app driven fare payment system.

“Experience has taught us that technology can be transformative,” Mr. Conrad said. “That is why we leapt at the chance to apply for the grant and why we look forward to working with our transit partners, NEORide, Perrone, CALSTART and ITLC on this critically important project.”

SARTA’s SMART grant application was one of 34 funded by the DOT and was the only Ohio-based project approved by the DOT. Learn more about the SMART program here: SMART Grants Program | US Department of Transportation

About Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA)

The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) was established in 1997 to meet the public transportation needs of Stark County, Ohio residents. SARTA provides more than 2.5 million rides annually to commuters, seniors, individuals with disabilities, students, and veterans through the system’s fixed routes, Proline, MedLine, veterans, and campus bus services. Along with providing safe, reliable, affordable transportation to destinations in Stark and beyond, SARTA is a nationally recognized leader in the use of transit technology. The system has received numerous awards for its clean energy initiatives which include the acquisition and deployment of one of the world’s largest fleets of hydrogen fuel powered-buses. To learn more please visit

About NEORide

Akron METRO, the Portage Area Regional Transit Authority (PARTA) and the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) formed NEORide in 2014. Established as a Council of Governments (COG) under Ohio law, the group, which has grown to 14 transit systems in Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan is actively working to break down artificial boundaries, streamline operations and make it easier for riders to use public transit to travel across Northeast Ohio and beyond. As part of its effort to accomplish its mission, NEORide developed EZfare, a mobile ticketing platform that enables transit users to seamlessly travel from county to county and system. The highly popular free EZfare app for mobile devices has been downloaded xx times and they system is now integrated with Transit App, Uber, and Moovit.