Passengers of the Delaware Area Transit Agency can enjoy a book in addition to a ride, thanks to the recently launched Books on the Bus program.

Ginny Berry, DATA's marketing and community relations specialist, said 10 of DATA's 20 buses now have a bag containing books, either at the front or back of the bus.

Riders can select a book to read as they ride, to take home and return later, or even keep.

"People have been generous with donating books. It's nice to get them out there," Berry said. Donors have included the Delaware Kiwanis Club, she said.

The program was conceived by former DATA board member Traci Cromwell, who, Berry said, since has moved to Texas. Cromwell received funds for DATA to buy the book bags on the buses from the Polaris Area Kiwanis Club, of which she was a member.

DATA has five fixed routes: four in the city and one that travels south on U.S. Route 23 to Crosswoods in northern Franklin County. All routes begin at the DATA hub on Park Avenue, near South Liberty Street.

The ideal time to browse for a book in the bags is when the routes begin or end at the hub, Berry said, but passengers probably will have time for a quick look in the bags when they board a bus anywhere along a route.

Donations have included books for children and adults. Child DATA passengers include those taking what are called demand-response rides to a specific location, provided through agencies that have contracts with DATA, such as Delaware County Job and Family Services.

DATA welcomes donations of additional books, particularly for adults, Berry said. Those interested in donating books are asked to call Berry at 740-368-9383, ext. 1.

"Why not have someone else enjoy that book if you're no longer using it?" she said.

As the program continues, Berry said, DATA might add book bags in more buses.

The program is just one of a number of new services DATA has in the works or is studying.

Another new service will debut April 5, when DATA starts a free shuttle to First Friday events in downtown Delaware.

The plan calls for DATA to shuttle passengers from the Hayes County Administration Building parking lot, 145 N. Union St., to William Street downtown at 15-minute intervals from 6 to 9 p.m.

Berry said the shuttle will continue at First Fridays through December. She said the program is coordinated by Main Street Delaware, which puts together First Fridays, with sponsorship from the Honda Marysville dealership.

Sometime in the spring, she said, DATA will obtain a new bus larger than those now in use. It will be used for the First Fridays and will make the daily runs south on Route 23.

DATA also is developing plans to launch an evening car service dubbed Dash, Berry said.

The plan is to obtain two sedans that will operate Friday and Saturday evenings in the city of Delaware, accessed by a phone app, she said. The service would pick up passengers at their homes and take them downtown, then can return them home later.

The concept would allow passengers to avoid parking downtown and driving after they've had a few drinks, she said.

"It's a totally different departure for us and a whole different demographic, a whole different type of service," she said. "We're excited to try it."

DATA is developing requests for proposals for the needed software. No date has been set for the start of the service, which Berry said was inspired by Uber and Lyft.

DATA Executive Director Denny Schooley said the agency has conducted surveys and collected information starting last year with an eye toward refining its mission and strategic plan.

"We have completed phase 1 of the strategic plan, which includes our vision, mission and values," he said. That phase was completed with help from the public, government officials and agencies in the county, he said.

An emphasis will be placed on workforce transportation, "to get people to and from jobs without compromising current and future services to those that are transit-dependent, including our aging population and people with disabilities that depend on us for their daily living needs," he said.

The DATA board and planning committee are continuing to develop the strategic plan, he said, with more details to be announced later.

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