Social Justice New bus route will further connect Athens County By The New Political Posted on November 21, 2014 9 min read 0 0 707 Photo by Christian Power Residents of the city and county alike stand to benefit from a newly announced bus route by Athens Public Transit. Thanks to support from local government, the additional service will begin in 2015, connecting Athens to the village of Chauncey. “The idea has been in the works for at least two years,” said Michael Lachman, transportation services manager for Athens Public Transit, the entity governed by Hocking, Athens, Perry Community Action (HAPCAP). According to Athens Public Transit, the current Route 5 loop will be replaced by two new ones. One will extend down Route 13 into Chauncey while another will include stops on West Union Street and throughout uptown Athens, in addition to stops along Columbus Road and into The Plains. As it currently exists, the route is inconvenient for passengers who, in trying to travel to the west side of Athens, have to ride out to The Plains. The new route addresses this flaw, making it so riders have more direct access to the west side of town. Part of the expansion also includes longer operating hours. The buses currently run from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Route 5, whereas they are scheduled to run from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, and from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays. The change was made to accommodate more realistic commute times for those who intend to use Route 5 to travel to work. Funding for the project was cause for some delay, as it was not until earlier this year that HAPCAP was actually equipped to apply for the required grant money. “We took a run at applying for this grant last year and didn’t have time to get it together and line up the local support for it,” said Lachman. The grant was awarded by the Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) program. The federally operated JARC states on its website that its purpose is to ” address the unique transportation challenges faced by welfare recipients and low-income persons seeking to obtain and maintain employment.” Lachman explained that in addition to the $34,806 awarded by the Ohio Department of Transportation via the JARC project, local matching was needed on behalf of the City of Athens and the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services, both of which provided unwavering support. “They really came through for us,” said Lachman. “We weren’t even aware at the beginning of this calendar year that this grant was going to be an available opportunity again for this year. And when they released it we had less than a month to round up stakeholders. We’re very appreciative that the city came through on such short notice and allowed us to apply.” In a full joint press release unveiled last week, Mayor Paul Wiehl echoed the city’s positive sentiment surrounding this. “I’m glad we can work with the county and get something rolling together for transportation,” said Wiehl. Although one of the primary goals of the expansion was to address low income workers and alleviate their struggles with regard to transportation to and from their rural communities, Lachman explained that the project is valuable for everyone, especially those in town who have long been in need of a more efficient way to access the west side of Athens. “We try to appeal to a really broad cross section,” said Lachman. “The grant monies are targeted very directly at providing job access for lower income people, and that’s certainly part of what we do. I would also say though that this is going to be a project that has very broad benefits. “It’s going to benefit people on the west side of Athens at all income levels. It’s going to benefit a lot of OU Students. We’ve actually had a number of conversations with the OU Graduate Student Senate about how it’s going to open up a lot of possibilities for graduate students to live further out of town.” As a result, those students could stand to save a significant amount of money, as Athens has a higher cost of living compared to surrounding places like Chauncey. Along with that, increased access to the hundreds of businesses based in Athens could spell good news for local entrepreneurs. As for further community reaction, people are definitely eager to see the changes take place. “We’re already getting calls from people asking if it has started,” said Lachman. “Ironically, they’re a little disappointed when I tell them that they’re going to have to wait a couple of months. But I think that’s a good sign. There’s really some excitement around this.” A specific start date has not been established. However, the route will be added in either January or February of 2015. As helpful as transportation authorities anticipate this additional public transportation service will be, those at HAPCAP still have their eyes set on future plans. “We’re going to continue to expand and improve the services. I think that there’s a lot of room for improvement. We’ve made strides the last couple of years, but it still could be a lot better,” said Lachman.