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City looking for ways to make the Main Street Shuttle more efficient, useful
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The Main Street Shuttle cruises through downtown on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. The shuttle is available to people while the Main Street Parking Deck is closed for expansion. - photo by Austin Steele

The Main Street Shuttle, which is making its rounds in downtown Gainesville while construction on the Main Street parking deck is in full-swing, doesn’t see much action. There are only a handful of riders each week, Gainesville spokeswoman Nikki Perry said. 

Still, Tim Mason, one of five shuttle drivers, shows up about four days each week to make the nine stops at locations around downtown.

“We’re not used to commuting like this,” said Mason, a retired city of Gainesville employee. “People don’t like commuting. People don’t get on MARTA for fun. If you can walk the distance in the same length of time, you’re probably going to walk.”

There has been such low ridership on the shuttle, the city is deciding whether or not to change the route or discontinue the service altogether. It’s already adjusted the run-time for the shuttle, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m Monday through Friday, in hopes of increasing ridership. Originally, it was 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. A round-trip ride takes about 15 minutes.

“The goal was to ease the parking frustrations during construction on the deck, to try to replace that parking with external parking lots, but provide an easy way for people to get downtown,” Perry said.

After two weeks of testing the shuttle, Perry said some stops like the Wells Fargo lot on Jesse Jewell Parkway, aren’t getting any riders, so the possibility of taking that stop off the route is on the table. As visitors downtown become more familiar with the service, she’s hoping they utilize it more often.

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Nikki Perry, communications and tourism director for Gainesville, stands for a photo on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

“This is kind of a trial run,” Perry said. “We’ve never done anything like this before, so we’re just seeing if it works.”

Construction on the parking deck is set to be complete Nov. 30.

If that familiarity doesn’t come, or the city sees sufficient parking for visitors to downtown, the shuttle service will most likely be discontinued, Perry said in an email.

“I think it’s a combination of it’s not well known yet and there’s actually a good bit of parking,” Perry said. “I think there actually is a good bit of parking downtown that people probably didn’t realize until they had to start searching for it.”

Mason said he listens to talk radio to pass the time while he’s driving the shuttle. He said he’s learned everything there is to know about “all this political stuff going on.”

Sometimes, he gets “tired of other people’s opinions,” so he turns it off and simply drives around in silence.

He said he only picks up about two or three people each week, mostly professors from Brenau University who are carrying a few things and need to make a stop on the square. He said students haven’t been using it — they just “hoof it” over to the square.

He wishes more people would.

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Tim Mason drives the Main Street Shuttle around downtown on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. The shuttle is available to people while the Main Street Parking Deck is closed for expansion. - photo by Austin Steele

“It’d make me feel like I’m doing my job,” Mason said.

“They wish they had more riders because they’re excited to do this and they’re a good group of folks,” Perry said. “They seem excited about it and proud to help out, so we really want the increased ridership and to get more people on the shuttle, if it is needed.”

Mason has noticed more popular times for shuttle use are when it’s raining. He said he’s seen a couple extra riders during those days. As it gets colder, he expects to see a few more, too, even if parking doesn’t seem to be too much of a problem right now.

“People are just adjusting to not having all these parking places,” Mason said. “You can still see there are parking places to be had. They’re not completely booked.”