NC: New Bus Service Connects Rockingham Towns

Aug. 17--A new bus route is the kind of news that would be common and mundane in many cities. But not in Rockingham County, where some residents struggle to live.

With so many at or below the poverty level, just paying for gas is difficult.

And for 20 or 30 years, the county's publc transit system has been nonexistent. In Eden, for instance, there hasn't been a bus system since 1971.

Grocery shopping. Going to work. Running an errand. Tasks that we take for granted are a challenge for those who can't drive or catch a bus.

But that's changing. For the first time ever, a new bus system will connect some of the towns in Rockingham County to each other.

It's called SKAT.

A nonprofit group called the Aging, Disability and Transit Services of Rockingham County oversees the service.

It was one of the organization's employees who came up with the name. Sort of.

"She said, 'Won't it be great when anyone who needs to go somewhere can just hop on the bus and scat around town?" director Lee Covington said. "When she said it, a light bulb came on and we thought, 'That's a great name.'?"

In January 2013, Eden became the first city in the county to offer a route.

It was an instant hit.

Officials initially predicted 500 riders a month. SKAT is averaging 1,400 to 1,500.

"It helped bring people into the shopping areas," said Mike Dougherty, Eden's economic development director. "It helped the quality of life."

Reidsville and Wentworth eventually became a part of the SKAT route.

The service in those cities debuts Wednesday.

"It's a great opportunity and an inexpensive way to get around town," City Manager Michael Pearce said.

Establishing a route to Wentworth was crucial. The city houses the governmental center, the courthouse, the mental health facilities and Rockingham Community College.

"There are students who may want to continue their education, but when they graduate from one of our local high schools and they don't have transportation ... applying to RCC is not even an option for them because they have no way of getting there," Covington said.

Now, they do.

Transit officials say that eventually they plan to create a SKAT route in western Rockingham that will connect the entire county.

Contact Danielle Battaglia at (336) 373-4476 and follow @dbattagliaNR on Twitter.

Copyright 2014 - News & Record, Greensboro, N.C.