The wheels on the bus go round and round, and last Friday morning those wheels carried a busload of local leaders all around the town.

The bus tour was organized by Mayor Joe Scott to showcase the new GATEWAY bus service that will launch Monday, July 2.

Everyone will ride free the first week. There will be no bus service on July 4.

The service will include a route that winds through town and one that connects the town with Goldsboro.

After the first week, senior citizens 65 or older and persons with disabilities will ride for 50 cents.

For everyone else, the tickets are $1.

Tickets are $3 for the Goldsboro connector except for senior citizens and those with disabilities who will pay $1.50.

To receive the discounted fare, senior citizens must present a copy of any documents that verify their birthdate or a Medicare card.

Once in Goldsboro, there will be a free transfer to any of the Goldsboro routes.

Joining Scott on the tour were members of the town board, Mount Olive Area Chamber of Commerce President Julie Beck, chamber board chairman Marcia Whitley, GATEWAY Director Don Willis and board chairman Brent Heath, Lynn Williams of Mt. Olive Pickle Co. and Roger Green, GATEWAY operations manager.

"We are providing a service to residents of Mount Olive that they have never had before," Scott said. "It is reasonable. It is affordable. It is convenient.

"These are things we are trying to get to our citizens to help them have a better quality of life."

It is not uncommon to see a lot of people walking, particularly the town's poorer population that cannot afford a vehicle, Scott said.

The pilot program is being funded through a $66,000 grant.

"We have got to come up with the money next year," Scott said. "What we are hoping to do is reapply for this grant, and it depends on the success that we have.

"This is something that we are providing, and the citizens, if they use it, great, if not, we are going to lose it. We are being as accommodating as possible and we just want people to use it."

At-large Commissioner Steve Wiggins serves on the Transportation Advisory Board.

"This has been a hope and dream when Joe Scott served on that board also," he said. "Also Brent Heath as chairman has tried to make this happen."

The town was told it would have to come up with some $60,000, Wiggins said.

Town Manager Charles Brown and former GATEWAY Director Fred Fontana were instrumental in helping find the grant to fund the project, Wiggins said.

"So for the first year this is costing the town absolutely nothing," Wiggins said. "It is done with a grant so we have got to make it work. If we want to continue to have this bus route, we have got to make it carry itself.

"So we are hoping to get the word out so that as many people as possible learn about it and use it because it is going to be a great thing for the town of Mount Olive."

That is especially true in parts of town where people are less fortunate and do not have their own means of transportation, Wiggins said.

"You will see a lot of them walking all the way over from North Church Street to Piggly Wiggly and so forth," he said. "This is going to provide affordable transportation to those people."

People can even use it to make connections to Raleigh and Durham, Wiggins said.

"It is a great day, and we are very happy," Beck said. "It is awesome. I am so glad we had a chance to do this," "It is just going to make a huge difference, I think, in Mount Olive. I think this is going to a great service to Mount Olive.

"It's going to provide people the opportunity to get to various places around Mount Olive, and even Goldsboro and farther. I think it's a great value at a dollar a ride. It's very user-friendly. We just had the opportunity to ride the bus and see all of the different stops."

Beck also suggested that information be available at each stop on about three or four nearby places.

"When I travel you don't know what stop to get off that is close by," she said.

Riders might not be from Mount Olive and not know what is near a stop, she said.

Following the bus tour Scott said that promoting the service is something that local leaders need to do.

He urged town commissioners to place information about the service throughout their districts, including churches.

Willis said he would also provide Spanish-language versions as well, and during the first week of service the driver will be bilingual and speak Spanish and English.

"We need to push as hard as can because we don't want to see this bus empty," Scott said.

Commissioner Barbara Kornegay said she would post the information at the University of Mount Olive where she works, and Williams said she would post it at the Mt. Olive Pickle Co.

"I am excited. I think it is going to be great for Mount Olive," Willis said.

Scott also encouraged them to talk about the deviated route as a selling point, too.

Anyone who lives within three-quarters of a mile from the route can call an hour in advance and the bus will deviate from the route to pick them up, Scott said.

That three-quarter mile radius pretty much covers all of the town, he said.

Initially the route, which is 10 miles long, will have 22 stops, but more could be added, Willis said.

It will start at Walmart and follow N.C. 55 to Breazeale Avenue. It will follow Breazeale Avenue to County Road and then over to Church Street, back to Lewis Drive where it will loop back to the Mt. Olive Pickle Co. and senior center.

It will travel back up Breazeale Avenue to Bobby Denning and then return to Walmart.

Stops will include Walmart, Piggly Wiggly, Carver Cultural Center, Rose's, Mt.Olive Pickle Co., Mount Olive Family Medicine Center and Bobby Denning Furniture.

Bus stop signs will be erected this week.

"We have strategically placed these stops so that it will be convenient for them to go anywhere that they want to in town," Scott said.

There also will be three timed stops.

That keeps the bus on schedule so that people riding in between those time points will know about what time the bus is coming through, Willis said.

The bus will run hourly Monday through Friday from 6 a.m.to 7 p.m.

It will start at 6 a.m. and will take one hour to complete the circuit. The final bus will leave Walmart at 4 p.m. and complete the route at 5 p.m.

"If someone calls and lets us know they need to get home from Walmart, we will go ahead and do one last trip, but it won't be a circulator, it will be a trip home," Willis said.

The bus will leave the Goldsboro transfer center at 5:30 a.m., 6:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and from Mount Olive at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. on weekdays.

Scott said he encourages residents to make use of the service and to tell others about it.

As the service grows, Scott said he hopes benches, and possibly shelters, can be added at the stops.

For more information, call 919-736-1374 or visit www.ridegwta.com.