Photo Caption: The new GoBus system will make trips to Columbus and Cincinnati.
GoBus is a new intercity transportation initiative designed to connect rural areas with urban centers. Three special coaches are currently being built for the new bus system, and will feature wireless Internet, electrical outlets at each seat, expanded legroom and seat belts for safe travel.
Until those buses are completed in 2011, GoBus will use Lakefront Lines buses. Lakefront Lines will operate the GoBus program, coordinating scheduling and hiring drivers, said Carolyn Conley, transportation services manager for Hocking-Athens-Perry Community Action.
She said the order for the new buses, which cost $250,000 each, was put in a couple weeks ago and they are projected to take four to six months to complete.
The project is being funded with stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, funneled through the Federal Transit Administration, she said. It will put $300,000 plus annually into the local economy through services such as marketing, printing, design work, stop location service fees and other things, all using local companies, she added. The Ohio Department of Transportation has contracted with Lakefront Lines to operate the buses for $1.4 million, with an in-kind match from Greyhound Lines for $1.4 million. That will fund the operation for the next four years.
Conley said that while the logistics of the deal are complex, Greyhound will allow GoBus to use its online ticketing service, as well as its bus terminals in Cincinnati and Columbus, as well as provide other services. The city of Athens will actually own the buses, and is partnered with HAPCAP and ODOT on the project.
"The federal government was trying to assess needs, and one of the needs that they thought was pretty important was helping rural residents get to urban centers," Conley explained. "They put stimulus money toward fulfilling this need."
In Ohio, she said, this included the Athens project, as well Wooster to Columbus and Mt. Vernon to Columbus. Those other projects haven't started yet, she said, because the Athens lines are being used as a pilot before the program is expanded. After the city received the grant money, it contracted with HAPCAP to act as project manager.
The Athens-to-Columbus route has stops at the Athens Community Center, a yet-to-be-determined location on the Ohio University Campus, the book store at Hocking College, a second location in Nelsonville, the Old Dutch Restaurant in Logan, the Dogwood Crossing Travel Center in Lancaster, Port Columbus airport and the Greyhound Station in downtown Columbus.
Buses will leave Athens for Columbus at 10:05 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., and will leave Columbus for Athens at 8:25 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
The Athens-to-Cincinnati route has stops at the Athens Community Center, a second location on the OU campus, Mike's One Stop in Jackson, the Duke and Duchess in Piketon, the 1st Stop Gas Station in Peebles and then the 1st Stop Gas Station in Seaman, the Park and Ride at the U.S. Rt. 68 junction with U.S. Rt. 32 in Mt. Orab, the Snappy Tomato Pizza in Batavia, and finally the Greyhound Station in Cincinnati.
Buses will leave Athens for Cincinnati at 7:15 a.m. and 4:10 p.m., and will leave Cincinnati for Athens at 4:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
The Athens-Columbus trip will take about an hour and 45 minutes to get to the airport (and a bit longer to the downtown Greyhound station), while the Athens-Cincinnati trip will take just under four hours to downtown Cincinnati.
The $10 each-way fare is a promotional rate, Conley said, but organizers would like to keep it that low as long as they can, and will be able to as long as enough riders make it sustainable.
Conley said that Athens Transit will be a feeder-route to the bus line, and will pick up people throughout the community and bring them to the Community Center or the OU stop to use the GoBus system. This will also be the case in Logan and Lancaster.
With bus systems often subsidized, Conley said that funding for GoBus is in place for the next four years.
"Beyond that, I think there will still be some in-kind services for match," she said. "I think there will be more grant money. And I do think, because there is a need, that we can be somewhat sustainable as well."
GoBus will also be hosting a photo contest for riders in four categories: rural Ohio, urban Ohio, Ohioans and natural Ohio. GoBus will collect the photographs and use them in a variety of materials, as well as award prizes, she said.
Jessica Stroh, community services director for HAPCAP, said that residents of southeast Ohio now have an affordable travel option, while people from outside the region can now visit the beautiful local landscape for a nominal charge. Also, she said, businesses have a new tool to attract talent, and college students have a cheap way to travel.
"Affordable, efficient, convenient transportation is a key component to helping our communities," she said. "HAPCAP will continue to strive to eliminate the barriers to transportation access in our region."
Those looking for more information can visit the website www.ridegobus.com. Tickets can be bought online or by calling 1-888-95-GOBUS.