OCTA rides high with new propane buses

Jul 19, 2023 | Around Ottawa County | 0 comments

Director Laurie Blair and driver Julie Madsen fill the propane tanks of “Big Blue,” one of OCTA’s largest buses, from tanks at the bus garage in Oak Harbor. (Photos by D’Arcy Patrick Egan)

BY D’ARCY PATRICK EGAN

The federal government’s quest for clean energy will help to power the fleet of buses at the Ottawa County Transportation Agency (OCTA) in Oak Harbor. A recent $1.6 million grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation gave the local agency a big boost in providing residents with service all around Ottawa County, and beyond, said Director Laurie Blair.

“The grant is a win-win for OCTA,” said Blair. “We get another 10 buses for our fleet, another tank that holds 1,000 gallons of propane, and we’ll be saving funds because propane, a cleaner fuel, gets better mileage. We’ll get more bang for the buck, and be able to save on fuel costs.”

OCTA has a fleet of smaller buses that transport riders around Ottawa County and beyond.

Driver Julie Madsen, who has been on the road for OCTA for 28 years, truly cares about the people she takes to medical appointments, grocery shopping or the Ottawa County Fair this week.

Madsen can handle getting passengers on wheelchairs onto a bus, and have them quickly tied down for a safe trip. The riders are often from rural locations, and need Madsen and OCTA for rides to everywhere in the county, and often beyond.

“We’re an on-demand agency, and we allow people to book a trip up to three weeks in advance. You get to know your riders, and they become family,” said Madsen.

Ottawa County is very rural, and from east to west, the long trip from Marblehead to Williston, for example, is more than 40 miles. On an OCTA bus, the trip cost is $4, said Blair. “If you’re disabled, that is discounted to just $2. OCTA bus rides are both available, and very affordable, especially when considering the cost of a taxi or owning a car.”

Propane is now a prominent fuel used by OCTA to promote clean energy.

OCTA does get some funding from Ottawa County, but it is mainly funded by federal grants.

OCTA has 15 drivers and a total payroll of 20, which includes mechanics and administration.

“Our drivers do an amazing job handling all of the passengers, and they truly care about the people they transport,” said Blair. “An OCTA driver is often the only person some of them see all day, and the drivers get to know their riders on a personal level,” said Blair. “They know each other’s birthdays and anniversaries, and drivers are often invited to their parties.”

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