Now in its 30th year, Colorado Valley Transit District (CVTD) continues to be one of the ways for Wharton residents to get to their destination depending on their circumstances.
Tony Salazar, who is the mobility manager for CVTD, spoke earlier this summer during a Wharton Lions Club luncheon, and said the entity is as strong as it has ever been.
The gradual increase the past three decades is due to the growing communities in Wharton County, he said.
Salazar has been with CVTD for seven years and lives in Wallis. Part of his job is to train riders.
When Lions members posed questions to him, one of them about routes, Salazar was literally able to pinpoint where Wharton stops were, their destination street by street in this city he visits often. He was well-versed in how CVTD works in Wharton, which continues to be a major hub for transporting people.
He reminded Lions about how Wharton residents may also schedule a pickup time with advanced notice.
CVTD was established in 1986 to provide rural mass transportation to residents. CVTD received a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to begin operations.
“Originally, the plan was to target the elderly and disabled, but eventually it transported all residents,” Salazar said. “We started in Colorado County where we are still based in Columbus and eventually we expanded to other counties.”
In 1986, Phase 2 of CVTD operations allowed expansion to Austin and Waller counties, and three years later, Wharton County was part of CVTD’s Phase 3.
Salazar said Wharton eventually joined Columbus to be one of two CVTD’s home base where “units” are housed.
The units he referred to were the vehicles that residents ride in. There are 12 units housed in Columbus, seven in Wharton, two each in Sealy, Bellville and Prairie View. He said the 25 units are all equipped with lifts and even more important, the 17 drivers CVTD employs have their CDL licenses and industry endorsements to drive passengers from place to place.
The gradual development in operations was done through the CVTD Board of Directors, which provides directive and operational plans. There are eight board members, two from each of the four counties. Wharton County’s representatives are Felicia Matthews and Marilyn Sebesta.
Salazar said Wharton is large enough and has enough residents that it provides “demand response” and loop services.
Demand response allows residents, even those who are handicapped, to be picked up at their residence and then be transported to their destination. It requires 24-hour notice. A client is then required to call the CVTD vehicle’s operator.
The loops service begins at 7 a.m. and concludes at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at designated “shelters” only.
“This means every hour on the hour, we have a unit that is looping around the city picking up people and taking them where the route goes,” Salazar said.
The loop service begins at Wharton Medical Group (Memorial Hermann Medical Group), then Wal-Mart, FM 102, several times on Fulton Street and Richmond Road, around Wharton County Community College and H-E-B.
There are more than 30 stops the CVTD vehicles make. Salazar said all those stops equate to one hour. Depending on the time of the month, it can take a little longer due to when residents are paid for work or by other means.
“Sometimes we’re faster, sometimes we’re slower, but it does take about an hour to loop around Wharton,” Salazar said.
There are two ways to pay – cash or a fare card.
“All our drivers have a route set out for the day. When a rider gets on, the fare card is swiped or we accept cash or change,” Salazar said. “It’s $1 to (loop) around the city. If we pick you up again once after we’ve dropped you off anywhere in the city, it costs another dollar.”
Veterans need to confirm through CVTD they were with the U.S. military as their rides are free of charge anywhere.
A ride from Wharton to El Campo is $2 one way. The rides from Wharton to EC are at 9 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. Rides from EC to Wharton are 7 a.m., 10:30 a.m., and 3:30 p.m.
Salazar said the farthest a CVTD vehicle will travel is Katy along the Grand Parkway for $35 either roundtrip or one way on only Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. But it must be for medical reasons only, he added.
The youngest a child can ride alone is 12 years old.
Based on 2013 data, Salazar said CVTD had 82,189 riding trips.
He said the reason the data was gathered was because CVTD, which has a non-profit 501C3, had applied for a grant six years ago. He said CVTD relies on contributions.
CVTD is affiliated with the United Way and receives county, state and federal funding.