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Mountain Line suspending some bus service in March as RideMon program extended

MORGANTOWN — The Mountain Line Transit Authority voted this week to suspend bus service to the areas covered by Mountain Line’s Grafton/Fairmont Road and Mountain Heights routes starting in March.

The move comes in conjunction with the transit authority’s decision to extend RideMon, a collaborative demonstration project between Mountain Line and ride-sharing app Uber that has augmented bus service in those two service areas for the last seven months.

“Four of the seven months, the last four, we had higher ridership on the RideMon service than we had on our bus service,” Mountain Line CEO Dave Bruffy said, adding, “since we’ve initiated the RideMon service, we’re back to pre-pandemic levels of ridership in that area.”

Bruffy explained that since May 9, RideMon has provided 1,170 van rides. Those rides are on-demand, booked through the Uber app and cost the rider the same 75-cent fare as a bus ride. 

The two service areas in question are among the least-accessible by bus, which currently run each route twice daily. RideMon runs from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and has an average drop-off time of 24 minutes from the time a ride request is made.

Passengers can be picked up and dropped off anywhere in that coverage zone, including three Mountain Line connection points — Goodwill in Sabraton, Walmart on Hornbeck Road and the Mountaineer Mall plaza.

The transit board’s decision to suspend bus service on those routes in favor of the RideMon service is in line with what Bruffy laid out back in February, when he explained,  “our goal would be, at the end of the six-month demonstration project, to not have anybody on those regular route buses. Then we could eliminate that service and utilize those resources somewhere else”

In that time, Mountain Line personnel have ridden the routes, coached riders on the use and benefits of the service and even assisted, in certain circumstances, in acquiring devices through which rides can be booked.  

“And if it doesn’t work for people, we’re going to hear about it in that three-month period,” Bruffy said of the stretch from mid-March, when bus service will be suspended, to June 30, when the RideMon program will be reevaluated.

Based on what ridership looks like in June, the program could be expanded to take in a portion of Mountain Line’s Eastern Circulator route in the 2023-‘24 fiscal year.

Another option at that time will be to divert some of the resources freed through this program to another of Mountain Line’s more-difficult service areas, the Crown route.

“The Grafton/Fairmont Road, Mountain Heights and Crown routes are the three routes that every consultant who’s come in here for 25 years has said we should eliminate service because it’s so expensive,” Bruffy said.

“But we know that service is vital to people in those areas for doctor’s appointments, for grocery shopping. It’s some of our most rural, poorest population and it’s all they have. If we eliminate that we’ve abandoned that part of our community.”

For more information or assistance using RideMon, contact Kelli LaNeve, Mountain Line’s mobility coordinator, at 304-219-7433.

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