The kickoff of the operations analysis comes weeks before the delayed rollout of the MyTARC fare system. | Courtesy TARC

Louisville’s public transit operator publicly kicked off a top-to-bottom review of its services Thursday evening, laying out the problems it faces and some ambitions it hopes to meet, and inviting the public to submit written comments and suggestions.

“TARC is going through an evolution,” Ferdinand Risco, the system’s interim executive director, told transit officials, consultants, p.r. people and interested riders gathered at TARC’s Union Station headquarters.

Risco, who took the interim role at the start of the month, following the retirement of J. Barry Barker, said the event was just the first of several to hear from riders and keep them updated on how the half-million-dollar review and planning process is going.

Keturah Herron, a community activist and youth advocate, said she’s worked with young people who want jobs but struggle to make it to distant employers on TARC.

“The connection isn’t there,” with many stuck trying to figure out if it’s worth spending hours getting to and from a low-paying job, Herron said. “They could do a better job of putting benches and shelters up” for the elderly and disabled, too, she added.

Among other challenges facing the 44-year-old bus system and its peers across the United States: Ridership is declining, qualified drivers are hard to find, funding is tougher to get, and buses and other equipment are deteriorating. Meanwhile, customers’ expectations are shifting as they become more connected, and companies like Uber upend traditional transportation.

“TARC’s got busses with three-quarters of a million miles on them,” said Shawn Dikes, a senior transit planner for the consultant HDR Corp., which is conducting the “comprehensive operations analysis” and long-range plan with TARC. At the same time, “we need to partner with this thing,” Dikes said as he held up a smartphone.

Dikes told Insider that cities like Jacksonville, Fla.; Houston, Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis; and some others have or are working on updates to their bus-based transit systems that might be worth emulating.

Critical to a successful transit overhaul is an outspoken champion, whether that be a government official or other prominent citizen, he said. In Louisville, “there are some champions out there; it would be better if they were a little more vocal.”

The kickoff of the review comes weeks before the several-times-delayed launch of a new tap-card fare system and revamped website.

The operations analysis will take until the middle of 2020, and will be focused on making current service more efficient, with better communication with customers.

The long-range plan will map out TARC’s role in an integrated, regional mobility system, operating in concert with ride-share services and other transportation options.