Gainesville City Council began its fiscal year 2015 budget presentations at a work session Thursday, hearing a funding request from Keep Hall Beautiful, a local nonprofit advocacy and education group that organizes litter cleanups and beautification projects.
Keep Hall Beautiful has requested $15,000 from the city to bolster its estimated $134,000 budget for the coming fiscal year. These funds would support its many programs and events, including the Spring Chicken Festival, Rivers Alive cleanup and Arbor Day plantings, among others.
City Council expressed support for Keep Hall Beautiful’s mission and indicated it would support the funding request, which is the same amount budgeted this current fiscal year.
Gainesville is retiring the Red Rabbit name for its transit line and rolling out new buses with a rebranded design that officials say gives the public transportation service a more modern look.
“It was time to give the rabbit a break,” said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center.
The new name, Gainesville Connection, is meant to capture just how valuable the bus service is in bringing the local community together, officials said.
The city recently purchased seven new buses with a fully funded $700,000 federal grant and will begin operating them March 10. Ten of the Red Rabbit buses will be taken off the streets and resold, while three will remain in service until the end of the year.
The Red Rabbit brand has operated since January 2000, but officials said the new buses and redesign were needed to enhance customer experience, grow ridership and increase revenues.
“I don’t know if it’s going to translate into more riders, but we certainly hope it does,” Councilman George Wangemann said.
The new buses are equipped with a state-of-the-art “enunciator” system, installed by Georgia-based RouteMatch, which announces each stop along the city’s routes.
“This system will be helpful to people who are visually impaired, older adults and for visitors to our community who are unfamiliar with local street names,” Moss said.
The new paint scheme and decals were designed by local artist Hal Delong to reflect the character of the area’s natural surroundings.
“The new green and blue color scheme is a nod to the backdrop of mountains, lakes and streams that make up our beautiful community,” Moss said.
The federal funds also paid for bus brochures and signage needed for the rollout of the new brand. Additionally, the city purchased new software that will automate its data collection activities and allow for greater ease in preparing reports about ridership levels.
The vehicle chassis, heating and air systems, tie downs, lifts and seats for the Goshen Coach II buses were assembled in Elkhart, Ind.
No change in routes or rates will be made with the launch of the new buses, though city officials are expected to review possible adjustments later this year.
Ridership levels have rebounded since new fares were introduced last year, but revenue for the service remains flat.
City officials are hoping a new study will give them guidance about adjusting fares and routes once more, with an eye toward eliminating free rides for senior citizens.