By SARAH BRADBURY
Pulaski Area Transit (PAT) is serving citizens of the town with rides in safe, clean buses, each equipped with a wheelchair lift and two car seats for child passengers. The transit was started on Oct. 1, 2005 with a grant from the Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation.
One of the daytime drivers, Ronnie Boatwright, drives the morning shift route to Fairlawn and back as one of the dispatchers, Peggy Akers, Helen Guynn, or Geri Lenois, takes one call after another, matching people in need of a ride with a driver ready to pick them up.
PAT will pick patrons up at specified locations throughout the town and county, but for only 75 cents extra, they will go to their house and pick them up. One of the friendly and courteous drivers will even lend a hand to those needing assistance getting onto the bus via wheelchair.
The buses travel around to different stops and homes in the town limits, deviating 3/4 of a mile outside of the town and offer demand service for $2 to ride to appointments at a specific time and place.
They also make trips throughout the day to and from Kroger and Walmart in Fairlawn, stopping at New River Community College, Dublin Wades, and Dublin Walmart both ways. New River Community College students ride for $1 each way to and from the college.
Pulaski resident Brenda Proffitt takes PAT to work at Goodwill in Fairlawn every day. She says she can be picked up at home for $2.75 a day, which is cheaper than gas and very convenient.
The transit system has 11 buses running the more than 500 people a day who call for a ride. “Calls are coming in faster than buses can take care of them,” says Boatwright, speaking of the call volume that comes in over dispatch.
Akers, a dispatcher, says that people love not having to go to bus stops. Getting picked up at home is so convenient. This is not just the case for seniors, which is the demographic many locals think is the only one intended to use this service, but for everyone in town.
Mothers with children make up a large percentage of riders on the town route. They can ride at ease since there are seat belts on every seat, two car seats (one front facing and one booster seat) on each bus at all times. Children under three ride free.
PAT has a partnership with the local YMCA, picking students up from school and bringing them to the YMCA. There is an adult YMCA official present, and the rides are exclusive to the kids, with no other passengers on the bus at that time.
The buses run from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Buses are now available on Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., thanks to the New Freedom Grant in the amount of $90,000, with the town responsible for paying 10 percent of the cost each year. PAT is entering its fourth year receiving the grant.
“Eventually this grant will run out and need to be reviewed and the town will have a decision to make,” said Gary Heinline, transit manager. “The county has been good to step up and help. Town Council and the Board of Supervisors have supported us from the beginning.”
For the month of May, 2013, PAT averaged 262 town route riders, and 31 Pulaski to Fairlawn riders each day. Those numbers are large enough to suggest that people are benefitting from the service, but small enough to suggest that many are still not aware of it. More awareness of the transit service will hopefully increase the amount of riders, therefore proving to the town PAT is a valuable asset to the community.
Although PAT gets funding from federal, state, and local government, they still need and accept donations. Walmart and New River Community College both provide funding for the transit. They also operate an annual golf tournament and work with the Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce to get donations from area businesses.
Anyone wishing to donate to Pulaski Area Transit can contact the office by mailing donations to 141 E. Main St., Suite 500, Pulaski, VA 24301 or by calling (540) 980-7871. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who would like to ride the bus and be picked up can call (540) 980-5040. Town trips cost 75 cents; demand trips, $2; Pulaski County / Dublin and Fairlawn, $2. Anyone wishing to purchase tickets in bulk ahead of time may do so by contacting the office. Schedules can be viewed online at pulaskitransit.org or picked up at the New River Valley Senior Services and Agency on Aging offices.