Monday, March 8, 2021 - by Mitch Talley, Whitfield County Director of Communications
With ridership down to about one-third of pre-COVID levels, Whitfield County Transit Service is looking to bounce back, now that vaccinations are increasing daily and expanded safety precautions have been put in place aboard the buses.
“COVID has hit us hard,” says Diane Franklin, who was appointed director of transit in mid-February in addition to her duties as Animal Shelter director. “We’re hoping that as people continue to get vaccinated in Whitfield County, they will feel more comfortable traversing around the county and getting back on our buses. We’ve also added clear polycarbonate shields between the seats, and of course it’s also a federal mandate that everybody wears masks.”
Lack of riders over the past year eventually forced the county to park four of its 10 buses, but Franklin says their mission to serve residents of Whitfield County who don’t have their own transportation – regardless of their age – remains as strong as ever.
“A lot of people don’t know about us,” she says. “I was surprised about that. But everybody can ride – you don’t have to be a certain age. If you are under 16, you need to be accompanied by an adult, but other than that, anybody can ride.”
The fares are very reasonable, with a round trip anywhere in Whitfield County costing just $4. That fare can even drop to $3 with the advance purchase of a 10-ticket book for $30.
Buses start picking up riders at 6:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, and the last drop-off is at 4:30 p.m. Franklin says she’s looking into whether the demand exists for longer hours or Saturday operations.
“People think of Transit as just for senior citizens, but it’s not,” Ms. Franklin says. “For example, we take people to and from their jobs. If you have to be there by 7, we can pick you up and get you there. We also take people to and from the mall, doctors’ offices, friends’ houses, just anywhere … even to the parks. If you want to go to the park and have a fun day, we’d be glad to do that.”
In fact, she says Transit is eager to help residents any way possible.
“If you don’t have a vehicle, we know it’s tough to move around,” Franklin says. “Just the other day, I had somebody call me who needed to pick up just a few things at the store. You just don’t realize how fortunate you are if you have a vehicle and can go at your will. We try to make Transit as easy to use as possible, getting to and from your destination.”
Franklin especially encourages residents who need transportation to the health department or one of the drive-through centers for COVID vaccinations to call the office.
“Also, if you’d like to pre-order your groceries at a local store, you can tell them a Transit bus will be there to pick up the order at a certain time,” she said. “We’ll pick it up and bring it to your home for $4 or a $3 ticket.”
It hasn’t been finalized yet, but Franklin says she is also talking with the senior center about the possibility of using Transit buses to deliver meals to residents who used to eat there regularly.
It’s all part of an effort to make sure that Transit helps residents with their transportation needs as much as possible, she says.
“We don’t have set routes,” Franklin explains. “We are on an on-call basis. You call us and pre-book your trip, and we work you in. We go everywhere in Whitfield County. If you decide you want to go to a friend’s house today to visit, call us. We would like a 24-hour notice, but we’re not so full that we can’t work you in on a daily basis. Or if you say, you know what, I’ve run out of something today and need to get to the store, we’ll do our best to work you in.”
If you’re on a limited income and are worried about paying for the ride, Franklin says assistance is available from local agencies.
She encourages local residents to take advantage of the service, noting that it “would be a shame to ever lose Transit because it’s very needed.”
For more information or to book a ride, call 706-278-3606.