“What better way to show our love for the work we do through public transportation, than to go “fare free” and what better way to show our love of community and to the people in Valentine, than to kick this off February 1st, right here in Heart City!” announces Jonnie Kusek, Director of Transportation for Open Plains Transit (OPT). This is the only community where OPT provides transportation services, that they are offering free rides as part of those services.

“We already see the primary needs of individuals needing to reach Valentine for access to healthcare, dental and vision appointments, shopping, business and social needs. What if there were free in-town rides and free intercity transportation services to and from the community, along the US HWY-20 corridor? What about for the elderly, those with disabilities, special needs, veterans and low-income individuals, those that may not be coming into town or reaching vital services due to income or mobility barriers?”

With a study and free services are additional rules. There will be quite a few guidelines to follow, with the largest one being a minimum 48-hour reservation requirement for in-town travel. Previously, it was a request, now it is a requirement to receive free transportation. Same day in-town services may be available, but boarding fares will be charged. As the OPT Team sees the service really beginning to take off, limited vehicles, crew and factoring in items such as vehicle maintenance and weather, having adequate time to plan and prepare is key. Now there will be free services added and intercity bus services on Wednesdays, between Merriman and Valentine. The intercity services will be on regularly scheduled bus routes and will require reservations by the Friday before. Merriman residents will have the option to go to Gordon or Rushville on this day, instead of Valentine, due to logistics. For more information, OPT Drivers will have information on them or please call 402-389-2975.

All of this will be part of an 18-month transportation study conducted under the supervision of Director Kusek, that will allow for a review of the impact that a fare-free system could have on the Valentine community, the welfare of its citizens, its effect and how it may contribute to the economic development, health, quality of rural life and possibly the vitality of the Cherry County as a whole.

This study and pilot project will provide a means for individuals to utilize a relatively new and unfamiliar service in the community and surrounding area and offer an opportunity for rural residents to become acquainted with reliable transportation to access healthcare services, consumer services, employment, business and educational and social service opportunities.

None of this would be possible without the support of the Pestel Charitable Foundation and choosing Senior Services, Inc. (our 501c3) as a grant recipient. We appreciate the foundation’s Board in seeing the vision of what we feel can truly assist the community of Valentine and help Cherry County flourish as a whole. The study will continue as long as the funding lasts (this will be contingent upon ridership) and is in no way intended to become a long-term free service or expected to be funded in the future.

We need to always place the people first and people must be able to overcome mobility barriers. One of these is transportation, accessible transportation, and by working together we can definitely do this for our communities here” Jonnie Kusek