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A Shenango Valley Shuttle Service bus crosses the Connelly Boulevard bridge over the Shenango River in Sharon.

HERMITAGE — Despite some temporary challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mercer County Regional Council of Governments is back to transporting people as normal.

As of last week, COG Transit Director Michael Nashtock said the agency had about 35 drivers serving both the Shenango Valley Shuttle Service and Mercer County Community Transit, and was looking for at least one more full-time driver with a commercial driver’s license.

Last fall, the SVSS and MCCT, which are both operated by COG, had to limit their services due to a shortage of drivers and needed about 10 more to resume normal operations.

The SVSS, which follows fixed routes throughout Mercer County, had to alternate certain routes while the MCCT, which makes trips by appointment, ended medical trips to Pittsburgh.

To attract more drivers, the COG executive board approved a pay increase to attract new applicants, which seems to have since paid off.

Drivers for the shuttle service’s fixed-route services start at $14 an hour, while drivers for the MCCT’s door-to-door services start at $12 an hour.

Drivers also make an additional $3 an hour in hazard pay through COVID funds awarded to COG, Nashtock said.

Potential applicants who don’t have their CDL can work with COG, which will pay for the applicant’s training the first time in exchange for two years with COG.

However, Nashtock stressed that being a driver for COG is more than just getting people where they need to go. It’s being able to interact with the various residents who depend on COG’s services for transportation.

“A driver might notice one of the usual riders is missing that day, or they’ll let the next shuttle driver know someone may need help getting off the bus because they’re having trouble walking,” Nashtock said.

Ridership has also increased, as some people avoided public transportation during the pandemic.

There might be about 120 riders across the shuttle services five routes per day, compared to some days during the pandemic when there were less than 20 riders per day.

The MCCT is also seeing a service uptick, having done more than 330 trips last Wednesday. Although this is still less than the pre-COVID normal 400 to 450 trips per day, Nashtock said it’s still higher than the service’s pandemic numbers, where the MCCT could do as few as 100 trips a day.

“There were days during the pandemic when the ridership was very low,” Nashtock said.

Other changes have come since the height of the pandemic. Masks are no longer required on the shuttles. However, some drivers still prefer to wear masks and masks are offered for any riders that would prefer one, Nashtock said.

While information on the SVSS is available on COG’s website, the MyStop app can provide riders with a mobile option for staying informed.

Available for free, MyStop allows people to monitor the shuttle service’s routes, where and what times the stops are, and even information on the shuttles themselves, including where each shuttle is, how many riders there are, or how many minutes late the shuttle is.

Since each shuttle has free Wi-Fi, Nashtock said riders can plan their trips using the MyStop app beforehand and then stay informed or update their trips while riding the shuttle.

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Like David L. Dye on Facebook or email him at ddye@sharonherald.com.

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