By Erin Fuchs
DALTON, Ga. -- Chicago native Michael Martin recently lamented the lack of bus transportation in Whitfield County. "In Chicago, even in the suburbs, they got bus transportation," Mr. Martin said.
In fact, Whitfield County does have its own bus system.
But it's not like big-city bus systems.
"This is a rural transportation service," said Jonathan Ray, who directs North Georgia Community Action, which operates the Mountain Area Transportation System.
Unlike city buses, rural buses often don't have regular routes.
Passengers must schedule a pick-up 24 hours in advance, so last-minute bus trips are out of the question.
"It can't be a true dedicated-route service," Mr. Ray said.
It's difficult to get funding for buses with regular routes, said Brian Anderson, chairman of the Whitfield County Commission.
The bus system is funded by the county and state and has been available since 2002, he said.
"We want to get the word out to people who may not know it exists," Mr. Anderson said.
For now, many riders are disabled or they are senior citizens, Mr. Ray said.
But he said he sees it as a "viable form of transportation" for anybody.
Still, seniors have an extra incentive to ride, said Julie Dyer, assistant director of the Dalton-Whitfield Senior Center.
They can ride for free to and from the center, she said. "We try to get the word out," Ms. Dyer said.
One senior who rides daily, Evelyn DeLoach, said the bus system is the only reason she can leave the house every day. A year and a half ago, a doctor told her that she couldn't drive anymore because of arthritis in her feet.
Now, she takes the bus every day to the Senior Center.
"Thank God for the bus service," she said. "I think it's the greatest thing that ever happened to Whitfield County."
Still, another rider, Giles Davis, 64 -- who can't drive because of his Alzheimer's -- said he thinks that Dalton should have a bus system like some other cities have. Mr. Davis acknowledged that he would be "stuck at home" without the county bus, but he said he'd like to see a "planned, dedicated bus route for the city."
E-mail Erin Fuchs at firstname.lastname@example.org
IF YOU RIDE:
Times: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday
Fare: $1.50 for the first five miles, and 32 center per mile after that
To schedule a pick-up, call: Karen Jefferey at (706) 278-3606