Bus service might see changes

PARKERSBURG – Tim Thomas, the manager of the Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority, said the Easy Rider bus service is always being evaluated to make sure it serves as many people as possible.

One day that service could include evening routes and travel outside the cities of Parkersburg and Vienna.

Thomas said the authority is in the “infant stages” of exploring whether an evening commuter route between Parkersburg and Vienna could be established after the buses’ regular hours end at 6 p.m.

It’s something that Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp would welcome. He said a later route would benefit mall customers as well as people working a later shift.

“It won’t be all the additional coverage you get during the day, but if they’ll just make a sweep up through the city,” Rapp said. “We would like to help get the hours extended.”

Waiting to board a bus Friday, Parkersburg resident Josh Bays said he turned down a night-shift job at a restaurant in Vienna because he would not have had a way back home.

“Most of the time when you work, after 5:30, you can’t get a ride home,” he said.

Thomas said some questionnaires and surveys on the idea have been done with passengers, but the authority needs to have a clearer picture of its future funding before it can move forward. Congress is due to renew the Highway Trust Fund this fall and that provided about $1 million in operating money for the agency this year, he said.

“We don’t know what changes are coming,” Thomas said, adding the picture could be clearer by July.

Those federal funds must be matched dollar-for-dollar by levies paid by residents and property owners in Parkersburg and Vienna. That’s why, for the most part, bus service stays within those cities, he said.

“Our local match here is the Parkersburg-Vienna levy, and we don’t want to use any of that money” outside the city limits, Thomas said. “If we would go countywide, somebody outside the limits of Parkersburg-Vienna would have to come up with the money.”

The levies generate a combined $2.3 million. Both are up for renewal in the May 13 primary election.

Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell said he doesn’t get many questions or complaints about the transit authority’s service, but when he does, geography is usually the topic.

“The only thing I hear from time to time is for the bus to run outside the city,” he said.

Thomas said he hopes the authority one day provides more regional transportation.

“What I would like to see is us hook up with CABL (Washington County’s Community Action Bus Line) and something like that,” he said.

The authority does provide transportation to and from the Parkersburg Correctional Center, which pays for that service once the bus leaves the city limits. There’s also service to and from West Virginia University at Parkersburg, but no pickups are made outside the city limits anywhere but the school, Thomas said.

Williamstown Mayor Jean Ford said it would be wonderful to have Easy Rider service in her city.

“Our town is made up of a lot of senior citizens, and a lot of them don’t drive,” she said.

But Ford isn’t sure there would be support for a levy to fund the service and it hasn’t been considered in any great detail, although she’s open to the idea.

“It could be up for discussion,” she said.

Thomas said a levy is not the only way to provide funds for transportation service.

Transit authority officials review bus routes on a monthly, if not daily, basis, Thomas said. They look at areas that are busy or expected to get busier and ways to reduce congestion.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve already adjusted three routes,” Thomas said.

Changes have been made to the Seventh Street and Rayon Drive routes, and stops have been added at the Kmart plazas in Vienna and south Parkersburg.

“The bus company has just been so receptive to any kind of change or any suggestion,” Rapp said.