SHERIDAN — Goose Creek Transit plans to begin operating a fixed bus route this fall as part of an effort to expand its services, according to Goose Creek Transportation Director Steve Ainslie.

Ainslie said Goose Creek will fund the creation of the route with money from the Federal Transit Authority and a Community Service Block Grant and, because of the grant funding, plans to operate the route fare-free.

The 23-stop route would begin and end at The Hub on Smith and travel Coffeen Avenue, Sugarland Drive, East Brundage Lane, South Sheridan Avenue, North Main Street and West Fifth Street making stops near grocery stores, residential buildings, government offices, Sheridan Memorial Hospital and the YMCA.

In total, Ainslie said the route should take 55 minutes.

“I wanted to make sure we could do the route in under an hour, that way I could have a bus come by each stop every hour with just one bus and one driver,” Ainslie said.

Goose Creek has eyed the creation of a fixed route for several years, Ainslie said, but previously lacked the funding to implement one. The idea was proposed in a 2013 transit needs assessment performed by Colorado Springs-based LSC Transportation Consultants, which made several recommendations as to how Goose Creek could meet a growing demand for public transportation in Sheridan County.

Last year, the FTA awarded The Hub a $50,000 grant to study the feasibility of reforming Goose Creek as a regional transit authority to create more revenue options for the service. This week, A.T. Stoddard of LSC Transportation Consultants presented draft findings of that study to Sheridan City Council.

In Stoddard’s draft report, he wrote that Sheridan County’s growing population was creating an increased need for public transportation. Ultimately Stoddard concluded that converting Goose Creek to an RTA would not be the best way to meet that demand, however.

As an RTA, Goose Creek would have separated from The Hub and been eligible to receive government funding. That funding would have to come through a half-mill levy, though, which would amount to a slight increase in property taxes in Sheridan County.

Like any county-wide tax, Sheridan County residents would have had to approve the mill levy by popular vote and renew it every four years. Stoddard said he did not believe Sheridan County voters would support a new tax to support an RTA without a costly and time-consuming public outreach campaign. The cost of pursuing the RTA route would likely outweigh the benefit, Stoddard concluded.

Without making drastic changes to Goose Creek’s operations, Ainslie said a fixed route is the most efficient way to serve more riders.

“We don’t have a whole lot of room with the service we’re providing now to get a bunch of extra riders,” Ainslie said. “We’d have to have more buses, just because of the nature of the (service)…If the fixed-route even takes off slightly, we could probably do more rides on that one bus than we do with the other eight buses in a day.”

Ainslie said he tentatively expects the route to begin in October, but there are still details to sort out between now and then.

He proposed operating the route from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekends. The cost of operating that schedule for a year would be $110,000, Ainslie said.

Goose Creek received $35,000 from the FTA and $48,000 from the CSBG, meaning the service will either need to raise additional funding to run the proposed schedule, or scale back the hours to work within its current budget.

Ainslie said Goose Creek is also awaiting the delivery of eight new buses, which it purchased last year. They are scheduled to arrive in September and it would likely take Goose Creek two or three weeks to prepare them for use, Ainslie said; if those buses are delivered late, Ainslie said it could delay the launch of the new route.