Walker County's new public transportation system got rolling this week.
The phone line for appointments opened Monday, and the first rides were completed Tuesday, according to Deidre Tatum, executive director of the Walker County Community Action Agency (WCCAA).
Among the first to use the new service was a Walker Baptist Medical Center patient who was ready to be released on Wednesday and had no transportation. Ordinarily, a Jasper police officer would have been asked to provide the ride, according to Tatum.
"That's been a highlight already for me that we were able to relieve people who need to be doing other things," Tatum said.
Riders can call 205-265-3989 (a separate line for WCCAA's main number) Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to arrange transportation. At least 24 hours notice is required to schedule a ride and at least three hours notice is required for a cancellation.
The service operates Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 6 a.m. to noon.
Passengers are picked up at home and taken to their destination for a fee of $2 per five miles for a one-way trip.
Passengers will be informed of the cost of the ride at the time of scheduling, and fares must be paid in cash and in exact change at the time of pick up.
Passengers are given a 30-minute window for pick up, meaning the van could arrive between 7:45 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. for an 8 a.m. pick up. Once the van arrives, riders have three minutes to board.
Drivers are not allowed to enter a residence, assist riders to the door, lift wheelchairs or bags or perform other personal care assistance. Individuals who require such assistance are allowed to travel with one person whose fee will be waived as long as the dispatcher is notified at the time the appointment is made.
The Walker County Commission voted in August to replace ClasTran, a nonprofit transit system that now operates in Jefferson and Shelby counties, with a service spearheaded by WCCAA.
The new service provides demand response throughout Walker County in contrast to ClasTran, which operated by a city-based route system. Sept. 30 was ClasTran's final day of operation in Walker County.
The Walker County Transportation System receives funding from several sources. The largest supporter is the city of Jasper, which committed $53,000 annually to the service and is also working with Tatum to secure fuel for the vehicles at a discounted rate.
Mayor David O'Mary said the new service is an improved, more efficient system than the one that was previously operated.
O'Mary recalled seeing empty ClasTran buses moving around the city and making stops on several occasions.
"I will commend Deidre, who was seeing what I was seeing but she knew how to do something about it. What we have is a much improved system today because you match the service to the need. You don't drive around burning fuel and wearing out vehicles where there is no need," O'Mary said.
Other funders include the Walker Area Community Foundation, the Walker County Commission and the cities of Cordova and Sumiton. Officials in Oakman, Dora and Parrish have also agreed to fund the service in the near future, according to Tatum.
The Walker County Transportation System currently employs four drivers and has two vans in operation. Tatum expects to expand the fleet to seven vehicles and hire additional drivers by early 2021.
The vans can hold up to 15 passengers, though only three or four will be transported at a time right now because of COVID-19 concerns.