Mobile, most of the time: The data on Athens Public Transit delays, line cancellations 

For nearly 50% of the days between November 2022 and March 2023, all of the Athens Public Transit, or APT, bus lines ran as scheduled, according to daily updates posted to the bus system’s Facebook page. But for the other half of the days during that period, at least one bus line’s services were altered, whether the bus was running late because of construction on the route, or not operating due to staff calling in sick.

ATHENS, Ohio — Mabel Bustamante rides Athens Public Transit buses every day. She’s familiar with the system. Bustamante knows to get to her stop early and braces herself before the bus bumps over Court Street. She’s come to expect the sound of classic rock on the radio when certain drivers are behind the wheel. And, Bustamante is confident that when she boards the bus, Athens’ fixed-route public transit system will take her where she needs to go — she depends on it.

Bustamante does not have a car. She is pursuing two master’s degrees at Ohio University, teaching Spanish classes and studying as an international student from Ecuador. Public transit is essential for Bustamante to get to her job, her apartment, school and grocery stores. 

“The majority of international students don’t have a car and rely on the bus system a lot to … go to doctor’s appointments, O’Bleness, or even go to the BMV or Social Security office,” Bustamante said. “You really have to manage your schedule around when they’re running.”


Though the bus routes she takes most are not canceled often, Bustamante knows from personal experience and stories from friends about the challenges people deal with when a line doesn’t run.

“You don’t really plan your day out for there not to be buses and then when that does happen, you’re just like, ‘rush, rush rush,’” Bustamante said. 

For nearly 50% of the days between November 2022 and March 2023, all of the Athens Public Transit, or APT, bus lines ran as scheduled: None of the routes were delayed, shortened or canceled, according to data collected from daily updates posted to the bus system’s Facebook page

But for the other half of the days during that period, at least one bus line’s services were altered, whether the bus was running late because of construction on the route or not operating due to staff calling in sick.

APT employees do not make the decision to cancel a bus line lightly. Before concluding that a bus will not be able to run for the day, APT Transportation Operations Administrator Jody Hart considers employee capacity, alternate access to places on the route and impacts on riders. 

“I don’t just cancel a route to cancel a route,” Hart said. “There’s a lot of things that go into that, as for me closing a route. It just depends, every day is different.”

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Staffing, funding limitations and CDL requirements for drivers

Sometimes, Hart’s day begins at 5 a.m. She oversees the 10 fixed-route, daily bus lines that APT operates during the week. When a driver calls off in the early morning, unable to work, Hart starts facilitating a backup plan. 

“It doesn’t happen as much as you would think,” Hart said in an April 17 interview. “But last week was one of those weeks it seemed like it happened more frequently. And then there’s weeks that it’s pretty calm and smooth.”

She’ll contact other staff — APT employs 23 drivers — to find a replacement. If no one is available, APT will have to close a line. 

“In some businesses, maybe you would have the ability to schedule extra folks because you know that somebody may not be able to make it, but with our situation and our funding, we really are running a very tight ship,” said Eva Bloom, Hocking Athens Perry Community Action development director. “So, when life happens — as we know it always does for folks — that can really throw a wrench into the system.”

Line cancellations often reflect larger staffing and funding challenges APT faces, Bloom said.

APT is operated and managed by HAPCAP, and funded by federal and state grants along with matching local dollars. But, HAPCAP Transportation Director Carolyn Conley said, for smaller communities like Athens, those local funds can be harder to generate to support the expenses of public transportation. 

Other staffing limitations stem from the requirement for APT drivers to have a Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL, to operate buses that hold more than 15 passengers. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, APT struggled with a shortage of CDL drivers from 2020 to 2022. Low staffing levels would sometimes strain daily operations. 

Read more: Public transit challenges and hopes in Athens County (an interview with APT Mobility Coordinator Bryan Hinkle)

This year, Conley said, she is getting more people with CDLs applying to work at APT, but HAPCAP does not have the budget to hire them. 

The starting pay for CDL drivers is $15.39 an hour at APT. Drivers also get health insurance benefits.

“We want to provide as much service as possible,” Conley said. “We want to treat our staff well and pay them a living wage. So, it’s kind of that juggling act and you can only increase as your budgets increase. But that’s something we’re definitely trying to work on, continuing to up that wage so that it’s attractive to people and so that they live a better quality of life.”

Frequent cancellations on Line 5, Line 2

APT Line 5 experienced the highest number of delays, schedule alterations and cancellations of all the lines from November 2022 to March 2023. Line 5’s service was impacted during 29 of the 86 days in the period, according to data collected from daily updates posted to the bus system’s Facebook page.

Despite the high number of days when Line 5 did not run as scheduled, service to The Plains, where Line 5 travels, was not completely eliminated. Riders could still catch Line 6, which runs through The Plains and Chauncey and only had six days of altered service during the same timeframe. 

“When we have a staffing issue for the day — let’s say someone calls off sick, and we need to juggle drivers around — Line 5 is the flexible line,” said Athens County Mobility Coordinator Bryan Hinkle.

Line 2 also serves a similar purpose. If APT is not able to run a route, it may close Line 2, which runs from Richland Avenue to East State Street, because Line 3 travels to similar destinations and will still be able to serve those riders.

“The people on Line 2 can always grab Line 3, and still get back and forth,” Hart said.

By opting to close Line 5 or Line 2, APT tries to limit negative impacts for riders. But, employees still understand that line cancellations, delays and shortening can be detrimental.

The primary difference between Line 5 and Line 6 is ride time. Because Line 6 drives through Chauncey as well as The Plains, it is a slightly longer route than Line 5.

“We do realize that, yes, Line 6 goes to the same locations that Line 5 does and someone is able to adjust and get where they need to go,” Conley said. “But it’s just one more barrier. Now instead of it being a half an hour trip it is maybe a 45-minute trip.”

Providing mobility via public transit in a rural area

The APT bus system provides Bustamante with the ability to move through the city of Athens. But, she and other international students at Ohio University are not the only people who rely upon APT.

In Athens County, more than one in 20 households do not have access to a car, according to 2021 American Community Survey data. Other transportation options, like walking or carpooling, may exist for people without a vehicle. In the more rural parts of the county, APT’s system can fill a transportation gap and expand all residents’ mobility.

“We actually have a high population that may not have a car or reliable transportation,” HAPCAP Transportation Director Carolyn Conley said. “That makes public transportation that much more of an essential element in this region.”

Although daily bus line cancellations certainly are detrimental to riders, Mobility Coordinator  Hinkle sees the services that APT does deliver as being much more impactful.

“In a rural setting we can talk about all the numbers, but I do think that what Athens Public Transit provides to this community is meeting a big need,” Hinkle said.

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