The city manager of Wheeling delivered some good news a little more than a week ago on the Watchdog Network.
"Conversation Taking Place Concerning Bus Schedule in Wheeling."
Right now, the Ohio Valley Regional Transit Authority (OVRTA) begins its Wheeling-based schedule at 6 a.m., and the drivers park the buses soon after 6 p.m.
Very 1980s, right?
But Bob Herron, when asked if there was a chance for later service on Friday and Saturday evenings, confirmed the longtime proposal recently has been discussed. The city's top executive said he has had conversations with OVRTA's executive director Tom Hvizdos about offering public transportation in Wheeling Friday and Saturday evenings until midnight.
It would not be all routes, but it would incorporate a loop of sorts that would extend from Elm Grove to downtown and Centre Wheeling. This is an innovation I've been pushing since I returned to Wheeling in August 2004, and I'm pleased to learn it's finally on the table. The goal, Herron said, is to examine whether or not the new service can be offered without an increase to the current and projected budgets, and the number of passengers on each route will determine what reductions are made, if deemed possible.
Best-case scenario, I believe, would be to have the bus running along National Road from the Elm Grove area to downtown and Centre Market. Initially, two buses could drive the loop so pick-ups and deliveries could take place every 30 minutes or so, and that would mean people residing in or near downtown could get a ride to places like Ye Olde Alpha or Wakim's Bar, and those living in Woodsdale, Springdale, and Elm Grove could make their way to the Capitol Theatre or Wheeling Brewing Company without getting behind the wheel of a car or truck.
It is believed such public transportation would increase foot traffic for commerce while also reducing drinking-and-driving situations, and if the base fare ($1.30 one-way) is the same during these evenings as during the day, the cost to customers would be cheaper than a parking ticket and far less expensive than a DUI arrest.
It is also quite possible OVRTA could make a few extra dollars, too, on Friday and Saturday evenings, and not only from the fees paid by passengers. Placard advertising has long been offered on the buses, but it hasn't proved very profitable because of the lack of demand. However, a new audience of riders may be enticing enough to gain a few advertisers that want to promote food and drink specials, live and local entertainment schedules, and upcoming festivals at Heritage Port.
And providing the bus service may be the only option at this point in time.
Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott has organized efforts to communicate with Uber officials about possibly doing business in the Northern Panhandle, but population density, the Uber folks explained, seems to be the biggest obstacle to attracting the ride-sharing service.
In other words, Uber said no.
Lyft is another company offering similar services, but Wheeling officials may have the right answer already. I've believed for several years that OVRTA's schedule is in need of tweaking in a way that more rides are made available without compromising the folks who now depend on bus transportation. People take the buses to grocery stores, to doctor appointments, to local hospitals, and to their jobs, and that needs to continue.
That's where a ridership audit comes into play. Those numbers will reveal what alterations can be made in order to afford the Friday and Saturday evening services. If the new amenity does not prove popular, though, then the bus rides go away, and other ideas can be investigated.
I've not been alone with my hopes that such a service would be offered and successful and I know I would take advantage of the bus rides to reach the Rose Bowl or Undo's or maybe Wakim's for a couple of Saturday evening sauce dogs.
If the buses roll, people will ride.