Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) will use a nearly $1 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation to support multiple initiatives, including the extension of its zero-fare service in Northwest Arkansas through 2022, according to a Tuesday (Nov. 16) news release.
The zero-fare service has led to a rise in ridership since it went into effect in early 2020, and the continuation of the service is expected to help businesses that have been affected by the pandemic, according to the release.
ORT also plans to increase public outreach through a social media campaign to raise awareness of the system, including the tools used to access and plan routes in the system, complete a bus stop accessibility study and expand service.
The transit provider will coordinate with area transportation staff to complete a bus stop inventory and analysis of existing bus stops. The goal is to provide recommendations that will enhance rider experience, comfort and accessibility.
Also, ORT will change the existing fixed-route service in Bentonville to a two-bus, on-demand transit system similar to the one operating in Rogers. Operating hours in Bentonville will be extended to 80 cumulative hours a week for the two buses.
“These efforts are supported by the Walton Family Foundation in the form of a $985,608 grant,” according to the release. “This support will allow ORT to continue offering its safe, contactless transit experience while more effectively positioning itself for growth in the region.”
ORT’s goal “is to make public transit more available and more accessible, eliminate shortcomings and to make mobility more efficient and effective,” the release shows. “This joint effort will help eliminate cost barriers to transportation for underrepresented communities, incentivize new riders and support local municipalities.”
In October 2020, ORT received a $144,269 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to allow ORT to continue to provide zero-fare service through 2021.
In September, ORT’s total ridership rose by 109.3% to 25,154, from 12,017 in the same month in 2020. Between January and September, total ridership declined by 1.7% to 133,819, from 136,188 in the same period in 2020.