Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit recently posted ridership and average daily passenger numbers that exceed pre-pandemic levels.
In August, total ridership rose to 27,929, the highest total since September 2016. Average daily passengers rose to 1,166, which is more than ORT was averaging before the pandemic. Between January and August, total ridership increased by 37.1% to 174,432 from 127,242 in the same period last year.
ORT Executive Director Joel Gardner attributed the ridership increase to multiple factors, including expanding on-demand transit to Springdale this year. Also, he said people are becoming more comfortable being in enclosed environments and doing more things in these spaces.
“We’ve taken a look at public transit and realized that fixed route isn’t the only way to do it,” Gardner said. “Combining fixed-route with on-demand transit is a great way of doing it.”
While on-demand transit has risen over the past few years, he said fixed-route transit will still be necessary, such as along the Highway 71 corridor. On-demand transit can complement fixed routes in areas where a fixed route wouldn’t be warranted because of ridership density.
ORT has 35 vehicles, with 11 dedicated to on-demand transit and seven dedicated to fixed-route transit. The remainder of the fleet flexes between the previous services and paratransit.
Gardner said ORT will soon receive seven new Ram ProMaster vehicles that can be used for on-demand transit or paratransit services. The new vehicles will allow ORT to retire some older vehicles.
A Walton Family Foundation grant is allowing ORT to offer fare-free rides through the end of this year. Gardner hopes that the grant is renewed for next year, but the cities would be the ones to request the funding.
ORT has 75 employees.