Tim Walker
AMR Reporter

Tim Thomas, the CEO of the Mountain Transit Authority -or MTA – explains the new public transit service in Pocahontas County – what is it, how to use it, and what it offers in addition to scheduled bus service.

Thomas said MTA service to Bartow began September 30. This was to address the need for transportation to Interstate Hardwoods.

A week later, the bus service added its Marlinton Loop, which runs Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We started the Marlinton Loop, which runs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., every hour, anywhere from downtown Marlinton to Edray – DHHR (Department of Health and Human Services) and then up to the hospital,” Thomas said.

“It has stops at the courthouse, city hall, the grocery stores – the IGA, Lucy’s – Family Dollar and Rite Aid, and then it makes the loop up to the hospital each and every hour.

“We are excited about being in Pocahontas County. We feel there is a huge need here. We just need to get the word out to let people know we are here to serve them and, for us to stay here, it is going to have to be a need driven by ridership.”

How much does it cost to ride the Marlinton Loop?

“The loop is a dollar in downtown,” Thomas said. “If you need to go to the DHHR in Edray, or to the hospital, it is two dollars each way.”

Does it cost more to ride to the area near Rite Aid?

“It’s a dollar” Thomas answered. “We consider that the downtown flat area. It is very easy for people to hop on and hop off. As to the cost – you can’t get in your personal car and ride around town for two dollars. Our vehicles will drop you off at the front doors of those facilities.

“We do have a loop, a fixed route, timing points throughout, but our service is called a fixed route/deviated service. What that means is that we will actually go off of our route, up to three quarters of a mile – safely.

For example, if you are at the courthouse, and our route doesn’t cover some place in your area, if it is within three quarters of a mile from the courthouse, we will provide service for you. The only thing you have to do is call and let us know, or if you are on the bus, tell our driver ‘hey, I need a deviation.’ He will deviate up to three quarters of a mile off our route to service you.”

What if someone is at the courthouse, and they just want to take the bus to Little General Store across the bridge? Will the bus stop and let them off at a place between regular stops?

“Mountain Transit Authority has what we call a flag stop” Thomas explained. “We do have designated timing spots, but if you hop up on the bus and you want to go to the convenience store, we’ll drop you off at a safe place closest to there. We won’t go into their parking lot because of the access.”

If somebody lives several blocks off the bus route – perhaps they have a mobility problem – would you pick them up at their house?

“Yes, that’s part of that deviated service” Thomas said. “It is basically addressing the ADA need. Someone in a mobility device that may not be able to get to that fixed point on our route would just call and say ‘I need to be picked up at whatever their address is and we will deviate that bus out there. With the communications problems we have here – two-way radios, cell phones, etc. – we ask anybody that needs a deviation to call a day in advance, if they want to be picked up at their house. The number is 304-872-5872.

“That’s our main office in Summersville, and we will schedule them the day before. Now, if they are out on the route, and they board the bus and they need a deviation, we’ll just take them the same day. You don’t have to call in advance to do that.”

Do riders need to have exact change to pay their fares when they board the bus?

“No,” Thomas said. “There are a couple of things we are doing.

“Right now, the driver will have some change. We would like to have exact change –that’s what we are working toward. And we are also coming out with a new monthly bus pass. We haven’t set the figure for the cost yet. It will give you unlimited rides for the entire month. You would have to buy a new monthly pass every month. It’s strictly up to them how they want to do it. We will have some change there but we are moving towards a cashless or exact change fares in the future.”

Do you anticipate riders will take the bus to go shopping?

“In rural communities, a lot of the need that you have is for shopping and medical, and work, of course” said Thomas.

“Basically, if you need to go shopping, the good thing about it is, if it is off of a route, you just call and set that up every time you want to go, and we will pick you up near your house, in front of your house, drop you off in front of the grocery store – and we will even help you with your groceries.

“The point that I want to make is, we are here for the passenger, and we are here to help this community.

“If you need to go anywhere, Mountain Transit Authority is here to be your general public transportation provider.”

If someone has a particular transportation need, MTA will work with that person to provide the necessary service, if at all possible.

Do you have plans to expand the bus service in the future?

“We have to start small” Thomas said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg of what we could actually do here. We are going to look at going to other areas like Hillsboro. We are even looking to going to Greenbrier County once or twice a week.

“But we actually need to get the ridership started here. People need to let us know what they need.

“The first year is our pilot project to see what will work, what the needs are before we come in here and actually finalize everything.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell the public?

“If you have any questions call our office, 304-872-5872,” he said. “And I think that once people start riding public transportation and see what it’s all about, they will have a better community with public transit involved in it.”

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