MOUNT VERNON — After several years of discussion, Knox Area Transit will become the hub for GoBus' D route between Columbus and Wooster. KAT plans to take over the route in the third quarter of 2021.
“We have worked with the Ohio Department of Transportation and have been interested in this route since it developed three or four years ago, but we were still working through our growth as a transit company,” said Martin McAvoy, KAT administrator. “They asked us if we had an interest in taking over the route.
“In our 2020 5311 [federal transit] grant we requested and were approved to purchase vehicles for the D route. We've worked on purchasing, researching staffing and hiring so that we could take over in 2020. With COVID, it was pushed back.”
McAvoy said that research shows a long-standing need for a regional transportation system, and ODOT is interested is having someone in the area manage it. The D route's current manager is based in Athens.
“There's not much contact with local representatives,” said McAvoy. “In our mobility management and transit research, we had a lot of people asking for transportation to Columbus and stuff. So we've been working in that direction to get that [need] satisfied.”
The route originates at the Greyhound Bus station on East Town Street in Columbus. It includes stops at the John Glenn International Airport and in Newark, Martinsburg, Gambier, Mount Vernon, Loudonville, Shreve, and Wooster.
“We'll continue the stops that are there, and hopefully expand them,” said McAvoy. “As part of our rollout, we will be looking at what needs to be changed or can be changed.”
One of the reasons ODOT wants KAT to take over the route is its central location.
“We will house the buses here. That gives us the ability to leave from Mount Vernon and go to Columbus and to Wooster at the same time so that riders can get to Columbus for work or a meeting, and get back the same day,” explained McAvoy.
McAvoy said the idea is to start early enough in the morning to get riders to another location where they can transfer to Columbus' COTA bus system. There is also a lot of ridership among the Amish community.
Instead of running a 40-passenger bus, plans are to use 25- to 35-seat capacity buses. KAT received $500,000 in grant funding to buy three mid-size buses.
As far as KAT's local ridership goes, McAvoy said that although it is not yet back to pre-COVID levels, it continues to grow.
“We are at about 450 trips a day right now. We had 9,000 trips in September. We usually average 13,000 to 14,000 every month during the school year,” he said. “The school demand continues to grow. Currently, most of our trips are with the Mount Vernon schools.”
Under federal and state COVID guidelines, transit companies are deemed essential businesses. As such, the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act covers 100 percent of KAT's operations cost.
ODOT reimburses KAT for the amount remaining after regular fares are subtracted from expenses. McAvoy said the revenue from contract fares goes into a reserve fund for future operations or equipment purchases.
McAvoy, along with County Administrator Jason Booth and the county commissioners, is beginning a search for a larger facility. The current facility on Columbus Road is 9,500 square feet.
“Twenty-five hundred square feet for 10 [office] positions and drivers isn't much space,” said McAvoy. “Fifteen vehicles are able to be stored inside; we have 29 vehicles currently and will be buying more.”
A proposal to ODOT for a 20,000-square-foot facility includes 4,000 square feet for office space and 15,000 square feet for vehicle storage and maintenance. Even though that's more than double the current space, McAvoy said that “20,000 will meet our needs where we are but doesn't allow much for the future.”
“ODOT wants to do a needs study,” he said. “It sounds like it's a good time to be working with them.”
“ODOT is interested in rehabbing, not building,” said Booth. “If KAT could acquire a place, then ODOT would be much more interested to do that.”