Will Pocahontas County Get Public Transit?
On Monday, July 15th, Tim Thomas, the CEO of the Mountain Transit Authority met for the second time with Pocahontas County business and community leaders in the Marlinton Town Council chambers in an attempt to get some commitments from the community to support the start up of public transit in the County. during the first meeting, which had been held on June 18th, Thomas explained that it was the goal of his company to expand its public bus service from Greenbrier, Webster and Nicholas Counties into Pocahontas County. Thomas made it clear that providing bus routes in the County, including commuter bus service to both Snowshoe Mountain Resort and to Interstate Hardwoods in Bartow, would be a great benefit to the County and he wanted to get this started quickly.
The July 15th meeting was attended by Ken Gator, the Director of Operations at Snowshoe; Allen Sisler, the Operations Manager at Interstate Hardwoods; John Simmons, the Executive Director of the County Senior Citizens, Inc; Mary Beth Barr, the CEO of Pocahontas Memorial Hospital, Linda Simmons of the County Chamber of Commerce, Cara Rose, Executive Director of the County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton and several citizens.
Thomas gave the following introduction as to the purpose of this meeting;
“Today, I want to talk about what I see the routes could be, and I would like your input” said Thomas. “I would also like to talk about commitment today, and we want to talk about how soon we want to get this thing started.”
Thomas explained that he had drafted up possible bus routes which would initially include a local scheduled route around the Marlinton area as well as the two commuter routes. He envisions that there will be a couple of MTA buses permanently assigned to the County, and he anticipates that there will be 3 drivers hired in the County, one full-time and two part-time.
Thomas describes how he envisions the local Marlinton Route.
‘First, let’s talk about the downtown loop” said Thomas. “You know, we need to get people to jobs. That was the main driving point coming in here, I think, and you needed some service to some of the apartment complexes around here. So when we talk about a downtown loop, my envision would be starting somewhere near 2nd Avenue, going across Route 39 going up to 6th. I think there is another little apartment complex there on 2nd; going out to the red light and going across the bridge up to Rite aid, and then coming out of Rite Aid and coming back down 219.”
He also talked about the commuter buses also making other runs, maybe taking people to the hospital or to other appointments during the day between the morning and afternoon commuter runs.
Thomas introduced Bill Robinson, the Executive Director of the West Virginia Division of Public Transit.
Robinson talked about the State’s commitment to bringing public transit to Pocahontas county, but said the Federal Grant to provide public transit require a 50% local match, unlike most other types of Federal Grants which only require 20 to 30% local matches. He said his agency which is part of the West Virginia Department of Transportation, might consider a little bit of help with the local grant, but he cannot commit to that because they want to see the local government and communities provide as much of the local match as possible. He also said he would like to see transit service once or twice a week to the Walmart in Lewisburg because people sometimes need to shop for things not available in the Marlinton area. Thomas said he liked that idea as well and people along that route, such as in Buckeye, Hillsboro, Renick etc. could also flag down a ride on that bus.
Both Mayor Felton and Danny Arbogast talked about how having commuter bus transportation to the large work sites such as the Snowshoe Mountain Resort and Interstate Hardwoods, would give people who want to work but have no transportation an opportunity to have a job and help the employers who need a reliable workforce.
Thomas added that the local and commuter bus routes he has been considering would cost a total of about $140,000 a year to operate, with half of that money coming from Federal Grants. Fares and other local sources would need to make up the difference. The payroll deductions from riders commuting to the businesses could account for a large chunk of that difference, depending on the number of people who commute. He was asked what a fare cost would be to ride from Marlinton to the Rite Aide would be and he said probably a couple of dollars at most, with longer rides costing maybe $5.00,
Ken Gaiter said he liked the idea of the commuter run to snowshoe, but needed to talk to his bosses to get their approval of them possible offering a voluntary transportation payroll deduction for their employees using the commuter service. Allen Sisler said Interstate is all in on that idea.
Thomas said he will attend the first County Commission meeting in August to try and get a financial commitment from the County towards the local match, and will set another meeting for 4 p.m. on Monday, August 12th to set up final routes. He asks for businesses or the public to email him at Thomas@MTAWV.com if they have any suggestions for bus routes.