As Frederick County continues to emerge from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, County Executive Jan Gardner could revive a plan to improve rural transportation by providing a rotating shuttle to various towns.
Gardner sent a letter to the mayors and burgesses of municipalities, including Emmitsburg, Thurmont, Middletown and Brunswick in late 2019, asking whether the towns would be interested in sharing the cost of a van that would alternate visits to the various communities.
The county would provide a small, 12-person shuttle bus and a wheelchair, and hire a driver to make stops around a particular town once a week to take people to grocery stores, shopping centers, libraries, senior centers and other destinations.
The service, estimated to cost between $130,000 and $200,000 per year, and shared between the county and participating municipalities, would also include hiring a dispatcher.
The plan generated enthusiasm from several mayors and burgesses, although all sought more information on what the costs would be.
Several communities discussed teaming up for a route, such as Thurmont and Emmitsburg and Middletown and Myersville or Burkittsville in order to share costs.
While there’s general agreement that rural communities need more transit options, a one-year pilot program running a Tuesday afternoon shuttle between Frederick, Thurmont and Emmitsburg was stopped in January 2019 citing low ridership, with 60 percent of trips having two or fewer riders.
The more recent plan would involve routes circulating within communities, rather than back and forth to Frederick.
The plan was put on hold with the start of the pandemic in 2020.
But Gardner said Friday she hasn’t given up on the idea of the rural shuttle program.
She talked to Transportation Services division director Roman Steichen during the preparation of the proposed fiscal 2022 budget, but they decided it would be hard to get good numbers for a pilot program until there’s more progress against the pandemic.
Gardner said she thinks the idea was well received by the municipalities, and it’s important to bring more transit options to wider parts of the county.
She expects that the idea could be revived in the middle of this year, or perhaps next year.
It just depends on “how soon we transition back to some normalcy,” Gardner said.