New River Transit officials hear public concerns, comments

The New River Transit Authority continues on its route to drop passengers off after picking them up at the Beckley Wal-Mart on Tuesday.Chris Jackson/The Register-Herald

Following the 2010 U.S. Census, the population of Raleigh and part of Fayette County (through Fayetteville) combined to lead the area to be labeled as urbanized, meaning the area sustains a population of at least 50,000 residents.

With that designation, the New River Transit Authority (NRTA) was established as the designated recipient of Federal Transit Authority (FTA) grants.

NRTA works with Raleigh County Community Action Association, which provides the drivers and service to the vehicles, to offer public transit service in the two-county area. A series of public meetings this week, however, has allowed representatives of NRT and RCCAA to explain a new expanded schedule to serve residents.

“We are expanding our hours of operation, the miles we cover and the number of people we serve,” Ron Cantley II, executive director of the Raleigh County Community Action Association, said Tuesday morning in Fayetteville.

NRT currently runs routes with its fleet of 18 vehicles (15 buses and three minivans) from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The proposed expansion of service hours will make public transit available from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with the continued availability of the demand response program, which allows customers to call 24 hours in advance to schedule service between the hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“Raleigh County Community Action still maintains a demand response system,” Cantley said. “This goes from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The number for this service is 304-894-8917. Demand response allows an individualized option.”

Additional routes will be added as well, although none of those routes has been finalized due to the desire for public input.

Although no local residents attended the Fayetteville meeting Thursday morning, a second meeting held later in the day in Oak Hill attracted three customers.

“They all got there from transit,” Heather Lilly, community developer for NRT, said. Of the Fayetteville meeting, she said, “I can assure you that some people would have been here if they could have made it on transit.”

Meetings earlier in the week were held in Beckley, Sophia and Mount Hope. Lilly said there has been some valuable input from those meetings.

“There were some concerns. Tuesday (meetings in Beckley and Sophia) was just hot and heavy,” she said. “(The Oak Hill meeting) was what we expected. There were three customers there and we sat and talked with them about their concerns for about 45 minutes. They were concerned about the deviation costs, but they were excited about the extended hours. It was a good end of the week.”

The proposed increase in the route deviation fee to $3 was one of the major concerns of residents at other meetings, also, Lilly said.

“It’s impossible to please everybody. Ninety-eight percent of the time, after we talked with them about their concerns, we would walk away with more understanding on both sides,” she said.

Cantley said the public input is vital.

“As we change our routes, we want to get public input. This will help us solve problems local customers can identify,” he said, and Lilly agreed.

Following the last of the public meetings Thursday afternoon, Lilly said her team now will sit down and go through all the comments and concerns. NRT and RCCAA representatives took copious notes from customers’ comments and Lilly says it’s time to “go back to the drawing board.”

“What we’ll do now,” she said, “now that we’ve met with the public, we’ll sit down with all our index cards, see what we’ve missed, have we missed a heavily populated area, we’ll see what we’ve left out. We’ll consider, ‘Is $3 too much? Should we offer some kind of monthly pass?’ We just have to go back through the route proposals and see what we can do to better serve the largest number of people.”

Lilly, who has relied on public transit as a customer, said she knows how vital the services offered are to people.

“Our goal is to be efficient and dependable,” she said. “My personal goal is to make it efficient for everyone, so that people can get where they need to go, whether it’s work, personal, recreational, medical, all the way around.

“The new extended hours will help everyone."

Cantley agreed, adding, “A good public transportation system can help vulnerable people move to independence.”

NRT’s goal was to complete the process for the new service areas, times and additional fare options by September. “We’re hopeful,” Lilly said, but “it’s a process. It’s definitely coming, though.”

For more on NRT, visit its website at newrivertransitauthority.org. For more on RCCAA, visit www.rrcaa.org.

Email ckeenan@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @Fayette_Cheryl

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