Ozark Regional Transit expands service; ridership remains down

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 590 views 

Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit recently expanded its service in Fayetteville as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect ridership across Northwest Arkansas.

The expansion revises existing Route 10 and adds service to it in areas east of U.S. Highway 71B, including access to the Willow Heights neighborhood. The route also offers service to grocery stores and retail shops, including the new Ozark Natural Foods location, the Northwest Arkansas Mall, Dickson Street, Hillcrest Towers, and transfer stations for other ORT and Razorback Transit routes.

Jeff Hatley, mobility manager and public information officer for ORT, said this is the first time it has offered service east of 71B near the downtown area.

Two buses are used on the route and allow for accessibility to each stop every 30 minutes. ORTs Fayetteville service is zero-fare.

In July, total ridership through all modes ORT offers declined 53.7% to 11,948, from 25,793 in the same month in 2019. Between January and July, total ridership has fallen 31.6% to 112,651, from 164,620 in the same period in 2019.

The July ridership fell 4% from 12,458 in June. The decline can be attributed to a rise in COVID cases in mid-July, Hatley noted.

ORT recently extended a policy allowing passengers to refrain from paying a fare through October. ORT has been zero-fare since mid-March as a means to mitigate the spread of the virus.

Losses related to a decline in ridership because of COVID can be offset with the federal grant ORT received from the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was approved in late March. ORT has been awarded $4.25 million to pay for pandemic-related expenses. The money can be used for up to two years or until it is spent, executive director Joel Gardner said previously.