Following a series of delays – the latest related to the coronavirus pandemic – Morristown’s long-awaited mass-transit system, Lakeway Transit, is scheduled to begin operations on July 27, city officials announced this week.

The East Tennessee Resources Agency will manage Lakeway Transit, which will have three hour-long fixed routes inside the Morristown city limits. That means the longest possible wait for riders will be 30 minutes, according to Rich DesGrosseilliers, Lakeway Area Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization director.

Lakeway Transit buses will transport passengers from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. The routes were designed to service major healthcare and shopping destinations, along with low-income housing.

Monthly passes for adults will cost $40. Monthly passes for students, children, senior citizens and people with disabilities will cost $20. Pay-as-you-go fares for adults will cost $1.50. Pay-as-you-go fares for students, children, seniors and the disabled will be 75 cents. Transfers will cost an additional 50 cents.

Children under age 12 must be accompanied by an adult. All riders who don’t have a monthly pass must have the exact change. The buses are equipped with a wheelchair lift. And while transportation to shopping centers and grocery stores is a primary Lakeway Transit focus, passengers may bring on board only the number of packages or items they can carry in one trip.

DesGrosseilliers says that bus drivers, at their discretion, may deviate slightly off the routes for passengers with serious disabilities but deviations will not be routine because drivers must maintain the one-hour route travel time.

The latest delay involved the bus shelters, which will be erected near the Hamblen County Health Department, at Walters State Community College and at Volunteer Blind Industries. The company that fabricates the shelters temporarily closed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, according to DesGrosseilliers, who says he expects the shelter components to arrive next week.

He says the pandemic also slowed the flow of federal and state grant funds to different agencies. DesGrosseilliers says the original plan was to hold a series of public-information forums earlier, but the 10-person cap on public meeting caused delays.

Drivers have already traveled the routes to ensure they can make the loop in an hour, but more formal driver training will begin next week.

Money to fund Lakeway Transit will not come directly from Morristown taxpayers. In 2002, after Morristown was recognized as the center of a so-called Metropolitan Statistical Area, the city began receiving between $400,000 and $500,000 each year in mass-transit funds as an entitlement from the federal government. That’s about half of the estimated cost.

State government will fund 25 percent of Lakeway Transit. The remaining 25 percent will come from ETHRA, according to DesGrosseilliers.