The Walton Family Foundation has provided a $135,789 grant to allow Springdale-based Ozark Regional Transit to extend its zero-fare program through 2023 as ridership continues to rise.
Between January and October, total ridership has risen by 26.9% to 195,238, from 153,831 in the same period last year. In October, ridership increased by 15.9% to 22,833, from 19,707 in the same month last year.
Since 2020, the Walton Family Foundation has provided three grants supporting the zero-fare program. In October 2020, ORT announced a $144,269 grant for the extension of the zero-fare program through 2021. Part of a $985,608 grant announced in November 2021 allowed ORT to extend the program through 2022.
Along with the program extension, the latter grant allowed ORT to complete a bus stop accessibility study, expand its on-demand transit service and support a social media campaign to raise awareness of the system.
“The 2021 grant has been fully and successfully expended on the initiatives that it was designated to support,” said Joel Gardner, executive director of ORT. “We were able to establish the ODT service in Bentonville, the bus stop survey with Olsson is coming to a close, the zero-fare program is carrying on through the year intended and the social media contract has been very effective.”
In January 2017, the Walton Family Foundation gave ORT a $140,000 grant to support a feasibility study on a light-bus rapid transit system in Northwest Arkansas. KFH Group of Austin, Texas, was hired to complete the study.
The bus rapid system was included in the 10-year transit plan Connect Northwest Arkansas, and Gardner said the plan includes the north-south corridors on which the system should operate, including Interstate 49 and Arkansas highways 71 and 265.
“When we get to that part of the development plan in implementation, we should have a pretty good idea of which corridor makes the best sense,” he noted.
ORT has 67 employees.