Groton Community Transit takes off in popularity
GROTON, Nov 19, 2012 (American News - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Doug Doeden hopped into the driver's seat of a 12-passenger bus and turned the key.
The engine revved, and he was off on his route to pick up kids from day care and drop them at preschool.
He made his way from day care to day care in Groton. At each stop, he pulled a lever to open the bus door and hollered to the children squirming in the doorway.
In 10 minutes, he had all 12 kids on board. Doeden knows each child by name and asks when someone is missing.
It's just part of his job as a volunteer driver with Groton Community Transit. In all, 28 drivers -- all volunteers -- drive the bus throughout Groton or to Aberdeen. The independent transit system has been in the community for seven years and has helped children, elderly and others in the Groton community get to school, the grocery store and other destinations, including doctor appointments in Aberdeen.
"People overall have really appreciated it, and they don't want to lose it," said Arlis Doeden, Doug Doeden's wife and one of the founders of the transit system.
When the Groton Community Transit started in 2005, the company had only one 15-passenger van that was marketed for the elderly transport.
"To be honest, I think a lot of people thought it was goofy," Arlis Doeden said. "They said, 'Do we really need a transit system in town ' "
Now, the organization has grown to three vehicles capable of carrying 31 standard passengers and four passengers in wheelchairs and a daily route that can garner as many as 70 riders.
The public transit idea started in 2004 with a community brainstorming session on generating more traffic for local businesses, said Arlis Doeden, 65.
The idea of a bus emerged, and the group applied for a state grant to fund public transportation. However, the project was stopped by the state transportation authority, which said Groton already had public transportation in Aberdeen RideLine, Doeden said.
While RideLine offered to serve Groton, it wasn't what Arlis Doeden and other business owners had envisioned: a vehicle in town all the time, Doeden said. RideLine, with vehicles based in Aberdeen, could pick up Groton residents, but couldn't wait in town for people, she said.
"Aberdeen RideLine was willing to help, but it just wasn't financially possible to be here all day, every day," Arlis Doeden said.
A compromise was made to have the Groton system supervised by Aberdeen RideLine.
"Aberdeen was trying to help that community to get in for health needs and shopping needs," said David Osborn, former transit director of Aberdeen RideLine.
He said the Groton group was dedicated to making the system work.
"That's always impressed me: the people in that community that wanted that program to succeed," he said.
In 2005, with the help of Aberdeen RideLine, Groton Community Transit launched with a 15-passenger van and a few volunteer drivers. But few people wanted to ride.
"I almost went out and begged people to try it," Arlis Doeden said. "They considered it the old people bus, and people don't want to ride the senior bus."
Even the elderly in Groton -- the people the transit system was aimed at helping -- showed little interest.
"I did everything but pay them to ride the van," she said.
Arlis Doeden thought the transport service wouldn't make it. Then new customers emerged: parents and their children.
Often parents had jobs outside of Groton, making it difficult to pick up and drop off their children, Arlis Doeden said.
"If you live on one end of Groton and you have to go to the other end, that's one mile," she said. "If you have a 6-year-old, you're not going to let them walk a mile in the winter."
From there, the service gained popularity. In 2007, Groton Community Transit became independent of Aberdeen RideLine and was supervised by the city of Groton, Arlis Doeden said. In 2009, the organization became an independent, nonprofit entity.
Groton transit is funded through state grants, fundraising, donations and fees riders pay. Riders pay $1 per ride and or a $20 pass for 22 rides.
The service has also started a nonemergency medical transport service to Aberdeen.
The ridership has grown, from 7,074 rides in the 2008 fiscal year to 10,006 in the 2010 fiscal year.
Arlis Doeden attributes the growth mostly to the children riders. She said parents often come in to say thanks.
On one occasion, a candy bouquet arrived from a mother of two who worked outside of Groton for most of the day. Her kids were able to go to preschool and dance class, thanks to the transit.
"She said they would not be able to participate in the other activities in the middle of the day without the transit because she wouldn't have any way to get them to and from," Doeden said.
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