By Beth Lawrence
After a decade and a half of service Jackson County Transit’s Jackson Trolley may be extending its services.
The local shuttle that currently takes passengers to designated stops in Dillsboro and Sylva is running a pilot program taking passengers to Cashiers.
The test runs come after requests for the transit service to expand its routes, Director Norma Taylor said.
County Manager Don Adams and Taylor began discussing the additional bus trips in July, and now the shuttle is making its first runs.
“We’re going to try it and see how it works,” she said. “Mr. Adams and I had talked about possibly trying it for six months. Hopefully, it will and can grow and expand.”
The first participants have been teachers from Blue Ridge School using the system to avoid driving up the mountain daily.
The program could also benefit Cashiers businesses who have employees encountering transportation issues.
“Now this is their opportunity,” Taylor said. “Let’s say in six months if we don’t have anybody riding, this route might go away. If Cashiers employers can work their employees’ schedules out, they can get on and off this bus going up.”
Currently the teachers meet the bus at the Cullowhee Rec Center and are dropped off at Blue Ridge School.
The plan is to add several more pickup points in Dillsboro, Sylva, Southwestern Community College, Cullowhee Rec Center and Dollar General in Tuckasegee and take them to the Cashiers Rec Center.
A second shuttle to other areas in Cashiers is available.
“We have a driver outposted in Cashiers who picks up people that go to the senior center,” Taylor said. “Once people start riding, once we get up to the Cashiers Rec Department, she could pick them up and would take them around to places that they worked within a 5-mile radius. It would be just another leg of the same trip.”
Anyone wishing to take the return bus from Cashiers to Sylva will need to find their own transportation to Cashiers Rec Center to meet the shuttle.
For the time being, trips to Cashiers Rec Center are $1 per boarding. The route is open to the general public.
However, as with all transit services, the bus cannot be used to transport children to school due to federal regulations.
It can be used by older school children, ideally 16 or older, for needs other than school, Taylor said.
Children from 13 to 16 need written permission from a parent stating they are allowed to ride unattended.
Any child under 12 years old should be accompanied by an adult.
During the trial run those wishing to use the trolley to reach Cashiers should call the day before they need to ride to alert drivers to look for them. This could change if the route becomes permanent and regular bus stops are established.
Other pickups could be made along the route from time to time if a rider cannot make it to one of the established stops.
Extra stops must be along the Cashiers track and no more than a quarter of a mile off the route to places such as Caney Fork Park.
“We couldn’t do a door to door because it would throw the times off quite a bit,” Taylor said.
The county is funding the pilot program, but if a permanent Cashiers schedule is established, it could likely be funded with CARES Act dollars.
Trips begin at 6:30 a.m., and the bus will ideally arrive at the Cashiers Rec Center at 8 a.m. Afternoon runs to Cashiers begin at 1:30 p.m. and arrive at the rec center at 3 p.m. Riders wishing to return to Sylva in the afternoon should meet the bus at the rec department at 3 p.m.
To request pickup at one of the new stops, call 586-0233 from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday to Friday the day before the ride. Monday riders should call by Friday the week before.