Gainesville resident Gloria Carruth depends on the Dial-A-Ride bus service since she nearly severed her ankle three years ago.
Her leg has healed a lot, but she still needs a cane to walk and she can’t go very far.
The Dial-A-Ride service doesn’t have bus stops. It comes to the curb of Hall County residents’ houses to pick them up and drops them off the same way.
It’s open to all county residents and requires a reservation two weeks to at least 48 hours before pickup.
The 10 buses and vans operate 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
It’s part of Hall Area Transit, a division of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which is jointly funded by the city and county.
“It’s really a great service that not a lot of people know about,” said Richard Ticehurst, Hall Area Transit general manager.
Thursday morning, Carruth was on a Dial-A-Ride bus, headed to the dentist. After she fell and broke her ankle, she was in a wheelchair and then a steel boot for a year.
The handicapped-accessible buses were able to lift her inside and strap her in securely as they drove her to doctor appointments, the hospital and Walmart.
“It’s really convenient,” Carruth said.
She tried a taxi a couple of times, but the cost was too high. She’s on disability, has a limited income and no car.
“I wish I could afford a car, but I can’t now,” she said.
Ticehurst said Dial-A-Ride has many passengers from the Senior Life Center in Gainesville, Avita Community Partners and The Guest House. Avita is a public agency helping people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and addictive diseases. The Guest House is a nonprofit adult day care facility. Dial-A-Ride also takes children to school, employees to their jobs and out-of-town visitors on outings.
“We don’t just move seniors and disabled people,” Ticehurst said. “We do move them, but we move a wide variety of people.”
Dial-A-Ride is a much smaller operation and more rural than the Red Rabbit service. In 2012, Dial-A-Ride made 27,116 trips at a cost of $21.61 each, compared with 240,190 trips on Red Rabbit at a cost of $3.05 each.
Red Rabbit has seven fixed bus routes and more than 200 bus stops, mostly in Gainesville.
Margie Watson has been working for Hall Area Transit for 26 years. She trains bus drivers, but she still drives one if they need her to. The drivers go beyond job expectations to take care of their passengers, she said. It’s much more personal than the fixed-route service because drivers are there to help passengers who have trouble getting on or off the bus.
“Sometimes we are, as drivers, we’re the only person that person has seen if they’re a senior,” Watson said. “Sometimes you take them home and they want you to get their mail out of the mailbox. And you know, we’re not supposed to do that, but sometimes our heart overlaps our head and we try to accommodate them.”
The Federal Transit Administration pays for 50 percent of the operating costs for Red Rabbit and Dial-A-Ride, a curbside van service. The county and city currently split the other half of the cost 50-50, but the county will pay the other 50 percent of the cost of Dial-A-Ride itself starting July 1, according to an intergovernmental agreement signed this week.
The city will assume the county’s financial responsibility of the Red Rabbit fixed-route bus system at that time.
Hall County commissioners declined about $400,000 in grant funding in April to continue operating Red Rabbit jointly. The city has applied for that funding. The FTA pays for 90 percent of all capital costs.
“Why not both of them share it together like they were doing?” Carruth asked.
She said she hopes the change doesn’t affect this critical service for her. She said she hopes the service and the price stay the same.
The Dial-A-Ride fare starts at $2 and increases with each additional mile traveled.
“They don’t think about the people, I think they think about lining their own pockets because everybody can’t afford a car,” she said.
Gainesville’s way behind in transportation, she said. When she lived in Florida, the buses ran six or seven days a week. People work on Saturdays and Sundays, too, Carruth said.
She expressed her frustration about the current state of transportation in Hall County.
“They’ve been doing this for years,” Carruth said. “They need to make up their minds and get together, get on the same page, you know what I mean.”