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‘I believe this is the future of rural transportation’

Microtransit van in Wise and Norton, operated by Mountain Empire Transit
courtesy photo
Microtransit van in Wise and Norton, operated by Mountain Empire Transit

Two years ago, Mitchell Elliott had a tough time convincing his organization that an on-demand transportation service would work in Wise and Lee Counties. But the program was far more successful than he could have expected, averaging more than 200 rides a day.

“I really believe that this is the future of rural transportation,” Elliott said. “It’s been a game-changer for us. It really has.”

Many residents in rural areas don’t have access to buses or transit, or when they do, it means riders face a long wait. Operating a fixed-route transit system in rural areas can be expensive, and Elliott said microtransit has allowed them to significantly reduce their transit costs. They received a grant to offer service fare-free for at least four years.

The on-demand system serves anyone within a 12-mile radius in the town of Wise and the city of Norton.

“It works a whole lot like Uber and Lyft,” Elliott explained. “If they booked a ride, we could have a ride to them within about ten minutes.”

Elliott said most riders travel to a doctor’s appointment, pharmacy, grocery store, or to work.

“We’ve had a lot of people who were able to work a full-time job because they had access to it.”

The Mountain Empire microtransit recently won a national award, and this fall, they plan to expand, adding Big Stone Gap and Duffield to their on-demand service.

Rides can be requested from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. using a smart phone app, or by calling Mountain Empire Older Citizens at 276-523-7433.

Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.