Led by its new Ride to Work service and expanded hours, the Fulton Area Transit Authority is growing in Graves County.
"In the last three to four months we've been providing about 1,000 to 1,300 more rides in Graves County than in Fulton County," FCTA executive director Kenney Etherton said. "We provide about 10,000 rides a month. It used to be about a 50-50 split between Graves County and Fulton County, but over the last few months that Graves County number has expanded."
Although the business has Fulton County in its name, a result of its charter through the Fulton County Fiscal Court, more and more of the service's focus is on Graves County. The business is also federally designated as the regional transportation provider for Graves, Carlisle, Hickman and Fulton counties.
Etherton said 13 vehicles are in Graves County daily, as well as 10 or 12 employees. All except one of those people live in Mayfield or Graves County and work out of the office the service leased last year at the former Mayfield Grain Company office at North Ninth and West Ann streets.
"It's been a win-win for us and the Graves County community," he said. "We're employing people in the community, and we're saving money from not having to come out of Fulton."
If the budget allows, Etherton said he also hopes to have an administrator working out of the Mayfield office within the next six months.
"Over the past three months in Graves County alone, we've provided 17,748 rides," Etherton said.
He attributes part of the increase in ridership this year to offering expanded hours for its "on demand" service. It used to end at 5 p.m. but now stays open until 10 p.m. The bus service offers rides for $3 each way within the city of Mayfield and $8 in the rest of the county.
"They're not only going to work," Etherton said of riders. "They're going to eat. They're going shopping. They're going several places."
The Ride to Work program, which began in April, allows people within Graves County to buy a monthly bus pass for $100. They provide their work schedules either a week or a month at a time, and the service picks them up from their home anywhere in Graves County and delivers them to work anywhere in Graves County.
At the end of their shift, the bus takes the rider back home. The program is also available within the other counties FCTA serves.
The Ride to Work program was the brainchild of Graves Strategic Development, a group composed of the Mayfield mayor, Graves County judge-executive, Mayfield/Graves County Chamber of Commerce and Mayfield/Graves County Tourism. The group began meeting in January.
Graves County Economic Development President Ryan Drane said once participants identified transportation as a barrier to employment for many county residents, GCED reached out to multiple companies about a potential partnership.
"It became apparent pretty quickly that working with FCTA was going to be an easy path forward to assist people with the lack of transportation," Drane said.
Local businesses Mayfield Consumer Products and D&D Shoes both have employees using the program. The service is averaging 20 people a day to MCP, Etherton said. "
Some of those rides have been later in the afternoon or in the early morning," he said.
MCP human resources manager Bob McNutt said the program has been a big benefit to the business.
"We have several people here who don't have reliable transportation," McNutt said. "They either don't have a car or don't have a car that's reliable, and in the past that has caused a lot of issues with absenteeism."
Sometimes people have tried to get rides with a friend who works at the candle factory, but that causes problems when the friend goes home sick or leave work because of an appointment.
"This just gives them an independence, to be able to know they are going to be picked up and brought to work and at the end of their shift their ride will be able to pick them up and take them back home on a daily basis and at a reasonable price," McNutt said.
McNutt also praised FCTA for extending its Ride to Work service to offer transportation to people working every shift.
"We have people who ride the bus at 5:30 in the morning and 5:30 in the evening and 3:30 in the morning, and they've made pick-ups and drop-offs available to us as needed," he said.
McNutt thinks one of the reasons for the program's success is its low price point.
"It's more economical for them to use the transportation that is available than it is for them to own a car," he said, factoring in the purchase price of a vehicle, gas, insurance and maintenance. He also added that some employees don't have or are unable to get a driver's license.
Drane encouraged other businesses to sign up for the service.
"The more people who use the service, the more robust the service will become," he said. "That means more buses, an extension of service times, what we've already seen."