SPRINGDALE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Ozark Regional Transit is asking Northwest Arkansas cities for support in adding a quarter cent sales tax on 2024 ballots.

ORT’s Executive Director Joel Gardner said ridership bounced back to pre-pandemic levels quickly and continues to increase, with current total around 1,100 riders each day.

Riders range from Bentonville business professionals, people who use it to get to and from entertainment, to people who use it as their only form of transportation, Gardner said.

Gardner said ORT will exceed its current budget if it doesn’t stick to the 10-year plan for public transportation laid out by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

In 10 years, Gardner said they’re going to need to double the number of buses, around 100 more employees, and have fixed route buses picking people up every 15 minutes instead of every 30 minutes.

The NWA Regional Planning Commission said ORT needs to secure independent funding from a quarter cent sales tax in each of the area’s biggest cities. This would include Springdale, Fayetteville, Bentonville and Rogers.

“I would say we are almost at the point where we’re running out of buses for the service that we’re providing because the demand is so great in Northwest Arkansas right now,” Gardner said.

According to Gardner, some bus routes are getting delayed for fuel stops or to switch out drivers, since it’s common to have the full fleet out all day long.

Currently, ORT is funded through an annual request from Gardner for a portion of money to NWA city councils and county quorum courts. Funds received are the same amount of funding as previous years, or other times less, Gardner said.

“By us knowing what our funding is going to be, based off of historical tax trends, that type of thing, we can start putting together the budgets necessary to bring in the people necessary, purchase the vehicles necessary to put more on demand transit out on the road, put more fixed route out on the road, and connect both Washington County and Benton County more frequently,” Gardner said.

Starting now, ORT’s board members are working with city councils to put the quarter cent sales tax on ballots by 2024. If passed, Gardner said it’ll take at least another two years to start seeing ORT’s services grow, since buses take two years to get once ordered.

Gardner said more than 10 years ago, the people in NWA rejected the idea of adding a quarter cent sales tax to fund ORT.

ORT takes people all over NWA at no cost, and you can read more on the local, public transportation system and how to support it here.