They get around

Community Transit of United Community Action Partnership is a much-relied upon service for Marshall residents, and is enjoyable as well, thanks to its friendly drivers

Photo by Jenny Kirk Darrell Gray, a man who loves his job, makes some adjustments to equipment just before heading out on his Marshall transit route recently.

People don’t necessarily need their own sets of four wheels to lead active lives in Marshall and the surrounding area.

All they have to do is climb aboard transit buses operated by United Community Action Partnership. A pick-up and drop-off schedule that involves two different routes allows customers to get where they want to go with only limited amounts of waiting time.

The blue bus covers the eastern two-thirds of Marshall with two laps every hour. Its red bus counterpart includes stops on the west side of the city along with more stops in front of apartment buildings. It stops at each location once every hour.

Route transit is available from early morning to early evening seven days a week for $1 per ride ($2 total for a round trip back to the original location).

For slightly more of a cost, customers can book an on-demand ride option either within Marshall or to nearby towns. Customers are asked to book on-demand rides as far in advance as possible.

A transit ride-along last week began and ended at UCAP’s Marshall transit garage near Justice Park. In between, the bus criss-crossed much of the city to pick up passengers.

They rode in comfort on cushioned seats with padded back rests. Floors were free of any mud or melted snow. A large space behind the driver offers plenty of space and a safe ride for customers who use a wheelchair, who are loaded onto the bus with help from a state-of-the-art mechanical lift platform.

Conversations on the bus ride vary depending on the group of passengers. They might include a variety of topics such as the Yankees-Red Sox major league baseball rivalry, Clint Eastwood’s movies because of his latest box office hit, “The Mule,” and plans for holiday gatherings.

“I had no idea how rewarding the job would be until I drove my first transit route,” said driver Darrell Gray of Balaton, who is one of UCAP’s most experienced transit drivers. He previously drove a bus for the former Balaton School District and later began driving for community action with the volunteer driver program. “They’re more than just passengers. We’re like friends and family.”

The first stop on the late morning transit run was on Elizabeth Street in Eatros Addition on the southwest side of Marshall to pick up Robert Verdeck. It was followed by a second stop on nearby Gray Place at the residence of Ryan Andres.

Both were bound for jobs in school lunchrooms. Andres was dropped off at Holy Redeemer School while Verdeck was driven to Park Side Elementary. Both destinations are well beyond convenient walking distance of their homes.

“I don’t own a car,” Verdeck said. “I wouldn’t be able to get to work without the transit system.”

Gray then drove to South Whitney Street to pick up Randy Martin at the home of his caregiver, Sue Bromen. Martin uses a wheelchair and gets around town on the transit system to go to the Touching Hearts activity center on East College Drive. Gray said he has known Martin ever since he first started to drive a transit route.

“I’m grateful for the transit system,” Martin said. “It’s very convenient. They’re always on time and provide great service.”

Before going to Touching Hearts, the transit bus stopped at Kerinda Hartson’s apartment building at Marshall Square Apartments. Hartson was bound for her mid-day job at Dairy Queen, located a short distance from Touching Hearts.

She used to walk to work, but had to switch to transit service because of a foot injury.

“I have only good things to say about the transit bus because the drivers are so friendly and so helpful,” Hartson said. “They work hard to get me there on time. They’ve made it possible for me to keep my job.”

When the transit bus stopped at Touching Hearts, Martin was helped into the building by Gray and activity center staff member Jennifer Hexum.

“The drivers and transportation staff do a great job for Randy and their other riders,” Hexum said. “They’re on time and are always willing to help.”

The final two stops on the transit run were at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church and then Hill Street Place. Gray drove 90-year-old Hill Street Place resident Florence Sommerer home after she took part in an adoration session.

Sommerer, who moved to Marshall from Canby, voluntarily decided to give up her car last summer. The biggest factor in her decision was the availability of transit service within Marshall and to nearby communities.

“I didn’t feel like driving anymore,” Sommerer said. “I didn’t have to drive. I decided to just let the transit bus take me.”

Gray said UCAP works to promote its transit service as much as possible. The rides are open to everyone regardless of income, age, or disability status.

“I think we’re the best kept secret in town,” he said. “Anyone can use it, and it doesn’t cost much. Think of the money someone could save by not having car expenses.”