Tim Walker
AMR Reporter

Tim Thomas, the CEO of the Mountain Transit Authority, met in Marlinton Town Council chambers July 15 with Pocahontas County business and community leaders. The purpose of this second meeting was to get commitments from the community to support the startup of public transit in the county.

At the first meeting, 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 as quickly as possible.

The July 15 meeting was attended by Ken Gator, Director of Operations at Snowshoe; Allen Sisler, Operations Manager at Interstate Hardwoods; John Simmons, Executive Director of the County Senior Citizens, Inc; Mary Beth Barr, 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 explained that he had a draft of 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 three drivers will be hired in the county – one full-time and two part-time.

He also talked about commuter buses 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 requires a 50 percent local match, unlike most other types of Federal Grants which only require 20-to-30 percent 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 and ride the bus.

Both Mayor Felton and Danny Arbogast talked about how having commuter bus transportation to the large work sites, such as Snowshoe 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 the fare would be to ride from Marlinton to Rite Aid, and he said probably a couple of dollars at most, with longer rides costing maybe $5.

Thomas said he will attend the first county commission meeting in August to try and get a financial commitment from the county toward the local match, and will set another meeting for 4 p.m. Monday, August 12, to set up final routes.

He asks that businesses and members of the public email him at Thomas@MTAWV.com if they have any suggestions for bus routes.

Following the MTA meeting, I met with Marlinton Mayor Sam Felton and asked if he was excited about the prospect of having public transit in town.

As you can see, he is very excited and optimistic.

“I am very excited, when I begin to think about the possibilities and the tremendous change that it could bring to our community, to families who have been struggling as a result of the opioid and drug issues in Pocahontas County,” Felton said. “The issue in some individuals’ lives has changed everything about their lives. So, with the drug problem comes the loss of jobs. Because of that comes domestic and family issues. Often the alternatives are shortcuts that lead to jail time. These individuals, even after certain programs or some jail time, where they have the opportunity to dry out and get things cleaned up, they exit, they are back in society again – but no job to go to.

“I think about the Chamber (of Commerce) meeting where Allen [Sisler] from Interstate Hardwoods said he had thirty-five positions (unfilled) that day. Companies are needing employees; individuals are needing work. What’s the missing element so often? The simple answer is transportation. It is not just having a car. These individuals, because they have lost their licenses and been stopped numerous times without a license, now maybe they owe a thousand dollars, maybe more than two thousand dollars of past citations and fines, which would have to be paid before they can get their license.

“I remember one young man I spoke to who had got a job, but ironically, the individual he depended on to get him to his job, sometimes would not show up. As a result, he lost his job. So work is the key to everything else. And if we can get two or three out of ten willing to work and willing to get to a job, it can change not only individual lives, it can change our communities.”

“As Mayor, I had real reservations about bringing public transportation to Marlinton. I didn’t want the people to think that I was providing ways for citizens to go out of county to shop. And, certainly that will be an option. But I want the public to understand those leisure trips are really a small part of what we are talking about. Probably ninety percent of this program, at this point at least, will be geared toward getting people to work. And those who know the value of work know how important that is. I want everybody to come home in the evening as tired as I am. They are a lot less likely to be in trouble if they are thinking about having a meal and getting a little rest before going back to work the next morning.”

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