As the doors of the Licking County Transit bus slid open to let off its only passenger on a recent Wednesday afternoon, two men hurried down the sidewalk, one trailing after the other. 

The bus, following the three-month-old “green line” from Granville to Newark, is one of three that operates along three “deviated fixed routes,” covering a 12-mile stretch of Licking County from east to west alongside the red Main Street line. The blue 21st Street line covers just over 5 miles from North to South. 

“Come on, I got to go to work,” the first man called to his friend as he hauled himself into a front row seat, one hand clutching his Monster energy drink. The slower one stopped just ahead of the doors of the bus and took a final drag of his cigarette before dropping it to the sidewalk and stamping it out with the heel of his work boot. 

“You came on time!” he said, grinning at bus driver Tyler McCallister before taking the seat behind his friend and leaning forward to add, “I’m so used to him being four minutes late!” 

A computer specialist by trade, McCallister, 35, has been a driver for Licking County Transit since August of 2023. In March of 2024, McCallister took on the newly created Granville line, making about six loops of the hour-long route every afternoon Monday through Friday. Every other Saturday, he drives for Licking County Transit’s on-demand services. 

Rides on Licking County Transit buses are rarely quiet during the week. The rattle of the engine and the roar of air conditioning — a welcome feature as temperatures push 80 degrees — doesn’t stop passengers and drivers alike from making conversation. 

Boarding the 21st Street Route bus at the Transit’s transfer shelter at 1717 W Main St, Bennie and Jeffrey proudly announced that it’s their first time using the service. Transplants from New York City, where public transit is the norm, the two are hopeful that the current bus lines will be the first of many public transportation options in Licking County. 

“If there was a sister system for Heath, that would be great for people who are trying to get there,” said Bennie, who works at the Heath Sheetz. 

A Heath line is already in the works at Licking County Transit and could be running as early as October, according to the Newark Advocate.

In the absence of public transportation, Bennie has been relying on Safe Cab, which operates in Newark, Granville and Heath, though the limited availability and high demand of the services makes scheduling a ride difficult and time consuming. 

Just after 3:35 p.m., Bennie, Jeffrey, and two other passengers got off at the Newark Walmart with a promise from driver Dennis Combs that he would be back to collect them, and their groceries, in an hour. At the Kroger down the road, the doors open to let out a regular on Combs’ bus, a woman whose back pain prevents her from driving. He’ll be back to drive her home in an hour, too. 

Combs, 67, who has been driving for Licking County Transit since July of 2023, says he has a lot of regulars on his route, including the welding student who gets on at the transfer shelter at 3 p.m. every Monday through Thursday. The young man waiting at the Camp Street stop, who Combs knows is headed to Pierson Drive without asking. The young woman from Ohio State University who gets a ride to her job at Otterbein SeniorLife a few times a week. Combs might not know their names, but each day he sees a piece of their lives that few others do. 

“I enjoy just the thank-yous I get daily, like the gentleman I dropped off back there,” said Combs, referring to the welding student. “Every day, it’s his positive attitude, you know, ‘Thanks; have a nice day.’”

McCallister has a similar relationship with his passengers. Though his route is still establishing itself after less than three months in action, he’s already a fixture in the lives of those he transports. 

“It’s real cool because this is [the bus drivers’] job, but they’re also like doing service work as well,” said a man who got on during the 4 p.m. stop at the transfer shelter. He and four other men take the bus from a sober living house to their recovery program and back every day. 

For these men, the convenience of a ride from door to door isn’t the only thing that makes a difference. While there is a $4 charge for the Licking County Transit’s on-demand bus service, the agency has not yet introduced fares for its fixed routes, making the ride free for all passengers. 

Minutes later, the men filed off the bus, calling goodbyes to McCallister and taunting each other for taking too long on the stairs. As the doors closed behind them, McCallister noted that the man he’d picked up earlier, with the slow smoking friend and the Monster energy drink, is a resident at this sober living community, too. 

Knowing their passengers isn’t in the job description of Licking County Transit drivers like Combs and McCallister. That doesn’t stop them from making everyday connection and community their business. 

Emma Baum writes for, the nonprofit news organization of Denison University’s Journalism program, which is supported by generous donations from readers. Sign up for The Reporting Project newsletter here.