At least every other day, a bus picks up a Franklin man who gave up his car to afford retirement, taking him to get a warm meal or groceries.

Almost daily, a group of young adults with special needs rides an Access Johnson County bus to get out, go shopping or head to work. Weekly, a woman who can no longer see well enough to drive gets picked up at her Franklin home to get to her job at Walmart, where she also does her weekly grocery shopping after her shift ends.

Access Johnson County is the county’s only public transportation system. An estimated 10,000 riders hop on the bus annually, heading to their jobs, court dates, doctor’s appointments or to run errands. Last year, the buses made 85,670 trips.

Riders can hop on a bus at a regularly scheduled stop or call in advance for pick-up. And they can travel past the length of the county, to shop at Edinburgh Premium Outlets or as far north as Stop 11 Road in Indianapolis.

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The nonprofit agency, an off-shoot of Gateway Services, which offers programming for residents with special needs, is the largest funded United Way agency in Johnson County. For 21 years, they have been transporting people across the county.

Their $1 million operating budget covers drivers, gas and maintenance on vehicles to get people in Johnson County who cannot drive or cannot afford a car where they need to go.

And residents who ride the buses multiple times a week say the service is critical to their daily life.

The public transportation service started in 1996, a few years after a United Way of Johnson County study showed that public transportation was a huge need in Johnson County, said Becky Allen, transportation director at Access Johnson County.

Gateway Services already had buses to pick up about 10 clients and take them home from programming. Mayors and leaders of towns, cities and the county saw the need for public transportation and helped the nonprofit find the funding they needed.

“We proved the need. It was easy,” Allen said. “It didn’t take any convincing, everyone knew it was a need.”

Since then, they have grown to partner with and become a transportation model for other counties and are adding routes and buses to meet the increased need of transportation in the county.

In 1996, Access Johnson County made more than 13,000 trips. They now make more than 85,000 trips.

Thirty-three drivers drive 28 buses. Their budget has grown to more than $1 million and is funded with local, state and federal grants. They get money from the United Way, selling $25 monthly bus passes and daily $2 passes and the highly popular lemon shake-ups at the Johnson County Fair, which nets them thousands each year for their budget.

They partner with other nonprofits to make sure their clients are taken care of, including handling dispatching and sharing best practices with Johnson County Senior Services and veterans organizations who drive veterans to their doctor’s appointments. They also work with local school districts to get students to and from after-school programs or to get a child to an after-school sitter who is not on a school bus route.

And they help local residents by offering affordable transportation.

William Ogle, 74, of Franklin, gave up his car about a decade ago so he could retire without having to pay for gas, insurance and repairs.

Using public transportation made sense, he said.

Since he moved to Franklin from Arizona four years ago, he hops on an Access Johnson County bus nearly daily to go grocery shopping, make a doctor’s appointment or to dine on waffles at Waffle House.

“I can pay $25 a month for a pass. That is a good way to travel,” Ogle said.

Access buses run from 6:15 am. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Riders can call to request pick-up from their home or ride on a regularly scheduled route.

Their hours were longer until they lost about $400,000 in federal money in 2014 after the requirements of a grant they were receiving were redefined. Officials decided the best way to make up for the loss of funding was to cut the hours they were available.

Thousands are still using the service.

A group of young adults with special needs in a Franklin Community Schools essential skills program uses the bus nearly everyday.

They hop on during a pick-up at Custer Baker Intermediate School and ride the Franklin route to get to where they need. Sometimes they go shopping or out to eat. At least one is dropped off to go to work.

Teaching the young adults to ride the bus on their own is a key part of their independence as they move into living in group homes and on their own, said Julie Gregory, a classroom assistant with the program.

By the numbers

Here is a closer look at Access Johnson County:

85,670: Estimated number of trips last year.

13,452: Number of trips the service’s first year

21: Number of years Access Johnson County has existed

$1 million: Annual operating budget

33: Number of drivers

28: Number of buses

$25: Cost of a monthly pass

At a glance

Access Johnson County is a United Way of Johnson County agency and is the United Way’s largest funded non-profit.

The United Way of Johnson County funds 18 local non-profit agencies and operates eight internal programs. United Way and agencies it helps support helped 37,000 Johnson County residents last year.

If you want to donate or begin a giving campaign at your employer or organization, contact the United Way of Johnson County.

Address: 594 Ironwood Drive, Franklin

Phone: (317)736-7840

Online: https://www.uwjc.org/

Author photo
Magen Kritsch is an editorial assistant at the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mkritsch@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2770.