West Virginia MTA Service in Pocahontas County, Part 1
At the April 6th Pocahontas County Commission meeting, several of the commissioners expressed reservations about continuing to financially support the public transportation efforts of the Mountain Transit Authority -or MTA – in the county. Commission President Walt Helmick said the county had supported the MTA for the past two years on a conditional basis since the service would be transporting employees to jobs at Interstate Hardwoods in Bartow, but that has not worked out. Commissioner Rebinski said the commission could better spend money on other things rather than for a $30,000 annual subsidy to provide public transportation in the county. They will need to make a decision about this at their upcoming April 20th meeting.
Because there was a lot of confusion about both the success or failure of the MTA service in the county, and about just what services the MTA does provide in the county, we interviewed Tim Thomas, the General Manager of the MTA to clarify that confusion.
Tim, how does the MTA view the ridership numbers so far for this fiscal year?
“When we first started this out, we knew it was going to be slow, but at the end of the fiscal year 2020, we knew that the ridership was decent,” said Thomas. “We had 804 trips that we provided on one route, and 245 on the other. And, you’ve got to take into account the pandemic. But, if you look at our ridership starting in July of 2020, which is fiscal year 2021 for us through the end of March (2021), we have already provided 1,285 trips on the Bartow/loop route-downtown. And the Route 219-Snowshoe Route is 765. If you looked at the numbers in comparison just at that point in time, and we still have three months remaining (in the fiscal year 2021) on the on the call-ride, what we call the loop, you’re up 59% over last year, and on the 219 to snowshoe route you’re up 212%. This does not include the transports we had from the State Opioid Recovery Grant that we have. And that’s an additional 127 individuals that we have transported multiple times in the week to help them recover in their recovery effort, and it is a very vital piece for them to have proper transportation.”
That you work with the Day Report Center (DRC) right?
“We work with DRC or any local treatment centers, yes, mainly the DRC.”
How does the MTA view the success or failure of the service for the county service so far?
“Well, we have to look at ridership. What the local citizens need to know is we mean boardings, the number of individuals getting on the bus multiple times is a boarding. And for a rural county like Pocahontas, I do believe our numbers are way ahead, I mean if you combine those together, it’s like 1,900 plus 127, this is success. It is like three to one what we do in Webster County, and Webster County has been on our route schedule for many, many, many years. I do think the numbers will grow, but we didn’t expect the pandemic to come in and hit us. Even these numbers are affected because we had to limit what we could and couldn’t do when the pandemic first came out.”
“People need to understand they need to call us for transportation too. They can call our office at 304-872-5872 between the hours of 8 (a.m.) and 4 (p.m.) and we will give them information about the routes, schedule their trips, and provide them transportation.”
What do you see as the most successful parts of the program?
“I think it’s the number of individuals that we’ve helped. The drivers get complements all the time. Individuals around here, I don’t think are used to seeing public transit. And, one other thing is we are working well with the Pocahontas Seniors. We told them in the beginning that we would not infringe on their type of transportation.”
What happened with the Interstate Hardwoods employee transportation?
“When we first started out, we were transporting those guys. We started out with five to seven, and it was good for a month or so. Then they started calling off, or we would send a bus and no one would show up. So that that happened for the first almost a year. With that particular program, we told them at the beginning that we needed at least fifteen individuals to make the program go because it is a contracted service. So, the decision was that if nobody was going to go, well we need to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. So, we made a decision to make it into a call-ride. You call us and we will come and get you, you can schedule it out. And it worked for maybe two months, then we would go to their house and nobody would come out, and we got guys on the clock. But the biggest thing was lack of ridership.”
Be sure to keep listening to Allegheny Mountain Radio for the second half of this interview in which Tim Thomas talks about the how the Call-Ride Service works, about how flag-down stops work, the Marlinton loop, about the call-ride trips to Lewisburg on Mondays and Fridays, and what Thomas thinks is needed to increase use of public transit by our residents.