It was literally 20 years in the making, but two Licking County transit systems -- Licking County Transit Services and Earthworks Transit -- are consolidating.
The consolidation is meant to provide more convenient service for customers and more cost-effective management for the county, said Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb, chairman of the Licking County Transit Board.
"There are certainly changes coming," he said.
Bubb said that for many years, Earthworks Transit operated out of Newark and Heath and Licking County Transit Services covered the rest of the county.
Starting in 2013, Bubb said, the county will operate both systems and all of Earthworks Transit's rolling stock will be transferred to Licking County.
Bubb said those who have been using Earthworks will find the consolidated service offers more hours of operation and they will see no change in rates.
"We're working hard to make it a seamless process," he said. "It all sounds easy, but it's been an incredible amount of work."
Bubb said for many years, Earthworks received 70 percent of the county's transportation grant funding. Licking County Transit Services received 30 percent, even though it had a larger area to serve and ran twice as many trips.
"Everybody understood the inequity," he said.
Bubb said an agreement was reached with Newark Mayor Jeff Hall and Heath Mayor Mark Johns to everyone's benefit.
"People talked about fixing it, but no one had the courage until 2012," Bubb said.
Adding to the changes, Bubb said, the county's current transportation management company, First Transit, came to the end of its five-year cycle with the county and the service was placed out to bid.
He said Nov. 29 the board approved National Express Transit Corp. as the new service provider. The company was chosen from five bidders.
Bubb said National Express will operate roughly 50 buses in Licking County.
Bubb said county bus services will remain "on demand," whereby customers need to call and arrange transportation, as opposed to something like COTA, where buses constantly pick up and drop off passengers along a prescribed route.
He said the transit board set its fares for 2013 and will offer two types of service: advance notice and same day.
For those who arrange transportation at least a day in advance, rides are $4 each; seniors and those with disabilities will pay $2 per ride.
Those calling for transportation the same day they need it will pay $6 per ride; seniors and those with disabilities will pay $3 per ride.
In both cases, one child accompanying an adult rides for free, and each additional child is $1. Bus services will operate 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays.
Bubb said news of the changes already is drawing interest.
"Public transportation is way up," he said.