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Residents warm up to transit agency’s proposed changes

POSTED: March 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.

GAINESVILLE — Most of the people who attended Tuesday’s public transit meeting indicated that they can get behind the proposed changes to Hall Area Transit.

The Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization presented a list of changes to area bus riders and local elected officials after months of gathering data and fielding comments from the general public.

The proposed changes are meant to simplify and increase the service area of Hall Area Transit.

"What we tried to do is build on the system we have now and make it a little simpler to understand ... and improve the connectivity of the existing core system and then add new services to the system," Chip Berger, a consultant for the planning organization, told the room of approximately 50 people.

Planners have proposed dividing the system’s three staple routes into six to create more linear routes. They propose adding a new route to the system that would eventually go from Lakeshore Mall down Atlanta Highway and Memorial Park Drive to Gainesville State College and Flowery Branch, and creating a commuter route for those traveling to Atlanta. The new changes also add stops to government entities such as the Social Security Administration building.

During the meeting, a few of the attendees had questions about how the proposed changes would benefit the community.

One attendee asked why sending a bus to Gainesville State was not a top priority in the five years of proposed changes.

The planners have proposed to extend service to the college in the third year of changes.

"I was wondering why Gainesville College was put off for three years, because it seems to me like it’s kind of a high demand, because of the development that’s going there," said Shama Khimani, a member of the student government at Gainesville State.

But a bus to Gainesville State in the first year of the proposed changes is not financially feasible, and it will have to be phased in to the transit system, Berger said.

"For any transit agency to double the number of vehicles that are operating is a big undertaking and a considerable expense," said Berger.

"Really, what we’re looking at doing is sort of staggering the bus purchases ... it’s sort of a phased approach to get to where we want the system to be."

One man asked how the improvements to the transit system would reduce the carbon footprint in Hall County. Planners did not have an answer, but Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of Gainesville’s Community Service Center said the improvements to the transit could reduce pollution in the long-term.

"I think we’ll realize the impact on the carbon footprint several years from now once we’ve created a generation of young people who have become accustomed to riding the public transit," said Lewis Moss. "I think the benefit is a few years out."

Others offered suggestions on how the transit system could better serve the Hall County community.

Octaviano Vargas, a 10-year Gainesville resident, said he likes the changes that are proposed for the transit system, but he said the transit system could be more user-friendly to Hispanic residents if signs and bus marquees were bilingual.

"Y’all need more flexible times, like (making the buses run) later," said one woman who praised Hall Area Transit over other transit systems in Athens and Atlanta. "When people get off (work), they might want to get on the bus instead of calling a cab, because a cab is like $6 to go uptown, and that’s a lot of money."

Others at the meeting echoed the request and also asked that buses run on Saturdays.

"Gainesville is a place where the Hispanic community (is abundant)," said Vargas after the meeting. "The people need buses ... on weekends to go to Wal-Mart, for example."

Margaret Selover, a Gainesville resident who says she has been riding Hall Area Transit since its first days, said the best way to improve the system is to run buses until at least 8 p.m. and on Saturdays.

"That eight o’clock at night thing would be good, because you’d get another shift of workers," Selover said after the meeting.

Other than extending service times, Selover said Hall Area Transit is the "best deal," and she is happy that the planners have proposed to connect the system with the Gwinnett County transit system.

"I’ve been looking for that since the beginning," Selover said.

"Once you hook up from Hall to Gwinnett, you can get all the way to the airport cheap," Selover said. "The only way to get from Gainesville to the airport (currently) is renting a service ... and the taxi’s 90-bucks one way."

Others had praises for the transit system as well.

Carole Wright, a long-time Gainesville rider, came to the meeting to find out what might change with her transit system, and she said she was pleased with the planning organization’s proposals.

"What they’re doing right now, I think is going to take care of (the system’s current shortfalls)," Wright said.

Wright’s only wish is that the bus would travel down Winder Highway, making it easier for her to get to her doctor’s office.


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