Future plans for the current Monday through Friday service, known as GoWal (for "Go Walton"), include routes along Walton County Road 30A and along U.S. Highway 98.

DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — The first route in Walton County’s free public transit service got rolling Monday, with a 28-passenger bus making morning and evening rounds along U.S. Highway 331 from DeFuniak Springs to Freeport to Santa Rosa Beach.


Future plans for the current Monday through Friday service, known as GoWal (for "Go Walton"), include routes along Walton County Road 30A, which follows the Gulf of Mexico coastline from Seaside through a number of other beachside communities, and along U.S. Highway 98, the often-crowded four and six-lane highway that carries traffic in east-west directions in the southern edge of the county.


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The four 28-passenger buses that comprise GoWal’s initial rolling stock were delivered in March. The buses are equipped with bicycle racks and wi-fi service.


Stops on the initial U.S. Highway 331-centered route include the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs, where buses will depart at 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., respectively, the park-and-ride lot at 76 State Road West and the county office complex at 902 State Road 20 East, both in Freeport, and the Courthouse Annex at 31 Coastal Centre Boulevard in Santa Rosa Beach, just off Highway 331 near its intersection with U.S. Highway 98.


From their final stops, the buses take an express route back north on U.S. Highway 331 to the courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.


In the evenings, buses depart from the courthouse at 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on an express trip to Santa Rosa Beach. On the return trips, the buses make the two Freeport stops before heading back to the courthouse, where the earlier bus arrives at 5:50 p.m. and the later bus arrives at 6:20 p.m.


Route deviations of up to three-quarters of a mile are available for people who contact GoWal at (850) 892-2422 at least 24 hours in advance.


"Our new GoWal shuttle buses are ideal for residents looking for an affordable commuting option between the northern and southern parts of the county," Walton County Planning Director Mac Carpenter said in a Monday news release announcing the new service.


"We hope to provide convenience and connectivity, allowing individuals to seek new employment opportunities, connect with friends and family, or simply visit one of the many local hot spots we have in the region," Carpenter added.


The transit service, now grant-funded with no direct cost to the county, is operated for the county by the Cribb Phillbeck Weaver Group, a Florida-based engineering services firm.


Given the ongoing spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, GoWal is asking passengers to observe a number of rider guidelines, including practicing social distancing on the bus (which will limit seating), sanitizing hands before and after riding and avoiding touching objects inside the bus when possible.


Passengers also are strongly encouraged to wear a face mask, which will be provided upon request.


For its part, GoWal is using disinfecting spray and wipes on its buses throughout the day, and the buses are sprayed down with bleach at the end of each day.


Drivers will be wearing personal protective equipment, and are equipped with thermometers for taking temperature readings.