If Hocking College student Seth Barber wants a job in Athens, but his friends or family can’t give him a ride into town, he bikes 18 miles from his Nelsonville apartment to get to the interview. If it’s snowing or raining, he walks.
Barber represents 47 percent of Athens County residents who do not own a car and live outside of the Athens Public Transit bus routes. Because he cannot afford to purchase a car until after he graduates, Barber bikes, walks or longboards to get to class and buy groceries, he said.
“(Traveling) would be far easier if Athens Transit extended to Nelsonville,” Barber, who is 26, said. “That 18 mile ride is killer.”
In early 2015, APS extended its hours and added new bus loops — which already included Uptown and most of the City of Athens — to make stops in Chauncey and The Plains. Beginning this semester, Ohio University students can ride APS routes for free when they present their student IDs.
No bus service currently extends to Nelsonville or any other areas in Athens County.
“Anything related to my field of interest is in Athens or Lancaster,” Barber, who works for IT at Hocking College, said.
Barber also said not having consistent access to transportation has prevented him from living the life of a “normal 26 year old." He said he relates to certain aspects of Athens culture more than Nelsonville culture — like the metal music scene, which he said is nonexistent where he lives.
City Council voted to increase the amount of money given to APS through income tax in 2013, but City Council President Chris Knisley said more should be done.
“There’s obviously more moneys we’d like to give,” Knisley said.
Income tax revenues provided APS with $102,407 in 2015, which was a larger portion of the city's budget than it was in 2012, when the city collected $90,000 for the system, Deputy City Auditor Laura Kreider said. The increase can be partly attributed to overall income growth for county residents, Kreider said.
Barber has also used the GoBus to get to town, but he said he is not guaranteed a seat if he pays with cash, nor are GoBus hours always conducive to his traveling needs. He said he needs a transportation system that runs more frequently.
He plans to move to Athens in August 2017 and attend Ohio University that fall. The move closer to his desired places of employment and social scenes will be cheaper than his current living situation in “just about every way,” he said.
Athens On Demand Transit, a transit service established in November 2011 with federal grant money, is one effort APS has made to increase accessibility to county residents, APS Transportation Coordinator Michael Lachman said. AODT allows customers to ride anywhere in the county one way for $2, and its vehicles are handicap accessible.
Barber had never heard of AODT’s services.
“Eventually, (APS) would like to see county-wide transit,” Lachman said. “Where the revenue is going to come from is the main question.”
Lachman said the expansion of transit routes to Nelsonville is a project many officials at APS want to pursue.
But despite current efforts to increase transportation accessibility, many county residents without cars are still left without means to get around, Lachman said.
“We get a lot of requests … like, ‘I wish the bus went there,’ or ‘I wish the bus went here,’ ” he said. “The land is so sparsely populated that a personal vehicle is your only lifeline.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Michael Lachman's name. The article has been updated to show the most accurate information.