A four-year plan to expand and improve public transit was pitched to Gainesville City Council Thursday morning, with officials linking the system’s growth to economic development and meeting ridership needs.
“We have a groundswell of support from corporations, businesses, manufacturing companies, nonprofits and other government agencies who are saying this is our time,” said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which operates Hall Area Transit.
“The question for us is are we willing to help them connect?” she said.
Moss and two people with J.R. Wilburn and Associates, a West Georgia consulting firm, spoke during a council work session about a just-completed study of what changes, if any, Hall Area Transit should make over the next four years.
The report, released in January, recommends several actions for fixed-route service, primarily extending operating hours from the current 6:15 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. range to 6:15 a.m. to 8:15 p.m.; extending a couple of key routes; adding a new route along Ga. 60 to serve additional employment; and beginning Saturday service.
The study also confirms a long-held belief that commuter service to Atlanta is needed.
“You know this conversation has come and gone several different times in this community,” Moss said. “It has been introduced by lots of different folks, both public and private.”
She continued: “The traffic volume going to Atlanta is becoming a hot mess.”
Traffic headed south on Interstate 985 toward Interstate 85 is now backing up to Exit 12, or Spout Springs Road, in South Hall.
“If there is an accident, it can (back up) as far as Exit 17 (in Oakwood),” Moss said.
She said “it’s important, in terms of economic development, to get employees within our community to their employers. And there are also people throughout the metro Atlanta area who want to come here to work — they want to circulate their dollars.”
Moss asked the council “to be supportive of my future requests, and you’ll be hearing that (soon).”
The city is about to go through budgeting processes for fiscal 2017-18, which takes effect July 1. City Manager Bryan Lackey said he expects to present the budget to the council in late May.
“We have a lot of needs, a lot of services we have to provide,” Lackey said after the meeting. “The transportation system is obviously important with that. … We’ll do everything we can to enhance the service, however we can, based on the resources we have at hand.”
“I can say I’m for extended services as long as they’re revenue-neutral,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said during the meeting.
From government’s standpoint, a major concern about public transit is how self-supporting it can be financially.
Several years ago, the Hall County Board of Commissioners pulled away from fixed-route transit mainly serving Gainesville and invested instead in Dial-A-Ride, a countywide curbside transportation service that requires reservations at least 48 hours before pickup.
“I think that everyone that wants this (expanded transit) service, especially outside the city limits of Gainesville, needs to pony up,” Dunagan said.
Councilman Zack Thompson asked Moss if employers who could benefit from expanded service “are willing to support (transit) monetarily … or are they just cheering on the sidelines?”
“We need cheerleaders and we need wallets,” Moss said. “There are many communities … where businesses will actually help provide the local match to draw down federal dollars.
“I think we’re coming very close to the point where local businesses are willing to help the city match those local dollars.”
The system gets federal money for operations, but “there’s several million dollars we’re leaving on the table every year because we’re lacking the local match,” Moss said.