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Word isn't out on new bus route

March 28, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - People who urged the Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority to extend the bus line from Martinsburg to Hedgesville weren't on board Monday, the first day of the new service.

During an early afternoon trek north, only three people rode the 23-seat bus, and all were headed for destinations within Martinsburg. The addition to the line - turning a 4-mile round trip into 10 miles - lengthened their commute.

Bus driver Ralph Petrie was making the rounds for the third and final time of the day and was still relying on a printed list of stops. No one went to Hedgesville during the morning runs, either, he said.

Linda Mason, the director of operations for the authority, known as PanTran, said it will take time for people to become aware of the new service because it isn't being promoted yet. PanTran has alerted local governments and other agencies, she said.

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"When the Food Lion in Hedgesville opens, business will pick up," Mason said.

A one-way trip the length of the route is $1.50.

As Petrie's bus pulled in front of the train station in Martinsburg, Catherine McMellen was seated in the front, several full plastic Wal-Mart bags at her side and by her feet.

McMellen, who lives at a senior citizen complex on Raleigh Street, said she has used the bus for many years to go shopping. "I would be lost without it because I don't drive," she said.

The bus to County Market was "a godsend," McMellen said, but then the store closed.

She wasn't aware of the Hedgesville extension, so Petrie gave her a new schedule to study, plus an extra copy for her neighbors.

Petrie started working for PanTran about 15 years ago, and has gotten to know several of his passengers, including McMellen, whose daughters went to Martinsburg High School with Petrie's wife.

He also knows Bruce Miller, a rider the last five or six years.

Miller boarded on U.S. 11 on his way downtown. Miller wasn't headed to any particular store, but goes downtown three or four times a week "to kill time."

He was not enthused about the scenic drive ahead. "I've been in Hedgesville more times than I've got fingers and toes," he said.

"The way people drive these days, I'm safer walking," he continued. "I don't have a car and I wouldn't want one if they gave me one."

"It's been three or four years before today (since) I've been to Hedgesville," Petrie added.

The most popular pick-up and drop-off point on the route, is the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Baker Heights, he said.

Miller sits behind McMellen, and they both say little as the bus rolls on - to the Department of Health and Human Resources at 1:42, to Rumsey Terrace at 1:50, to the Fort Hill subdivision at 2.

The stops are usually about a mile or two apart, and no one was waiting at any of them, so there was a lot of stopping and waiting.

"The new schedule, especially for Hedgesville, seems to have way too much time (between stops)," Petrie said. "I'm used to not having a lot of down time. There was a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. Now, there's a lot of hurry up and wait."

At the Laurel Ridge development under construction off W.Va. 9, Petrie maneuvered the bus in and out of construction equipment with just enough room to get by. He drove a full loop because he had plenty of time, plus he said he was uncertain where passengers were supposed to line up for the bus.

When the bus got to City Hospital at 2:28 p.m., Crystal Odoms got on and sat two seats behind Petrie. But there was still more time to kill - nearly 12 minutes before the scheduled departure.

Miller stepped out for a cigarette break, and Petrie joined him.

Odoms had been at the hospital since morning, visiting a friend. She said she took a morning bus which took her on a "joy ride" through Hedgesville first.

Odoms uses the bus to get wherever she's going. Still ahead of her after the ride to Hedgesville was a transfer to a bus that would take her to Moler Avenue, near her home.

She said she used to live in Baltimore, where buses run "all the time."

Her daughter, Alise, turns 16 next month and is intent on getting her driver's license, but Odoms said she's instilling the importance of public transportation in her.

PanTran's Mason said she expects more passengers on the new line next week, since people usually have more money at the beginning of the month and the weather is getting warmer.

Also, Mason said she dropped off some schedules at the Rumsey Terrace Apartments on W.Va. 9, where one woman was especially excited by the extension.

The last time PanTran changed a route was in 1993, when several senior citizen complexes were included, Mason said.

When PanTran began in 1975, there was a line that went between Martinsburg and Berkeley Springs. It was discontinued in 1981, Mason said, because just one man was using it, two days a week.

The new Hedgesville line will be evaluated after a one-year trial, she said.

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