A consultant’s report recommends these changes to Hall Area Transit’s fixed-route bus service, Gainesville Connection:
• Extending operating hours for the fixed-route service from 6:15 a.m.-6:15 p.m. to 6:15 a.m.-8:15 p.m.
• Extending Routes 10, which travels in west Gainesville, and 50, which goes to Oakwood
• Adding a new route along Ga. 60 to serve additional employment and beginning Saturday service
Getting on and off buses at the Gainesville Connection Transfer Center Thursday morning, riders had different views of the future they’d like to see for the fixed-route bus service.
Roger Smith said he’d like bus service to Atlanta. Jackie McClure, who takes the bus to work each day, would like to see more stops added to routes.
And John Holiday, an Army veteran, would like to see the Gainesville Connection travel to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs clinic off Thurmon Tanner Parkway in Oakwood.
“I don’t think it would take too much (to get there),” the Gainesville man said. “I don’t know how many veterans go there, but I go ... three times a week.”
Rider demands aren’t lost on Hall Area Transit. Through consultant J.R. Wilburn & Associates, the agency has completed a study of what changes, if any, it should make over the next four years.
The report, released this month, recommends several actions for fixed-route service, primarily extending operating hours from the current 6:15 a.m.-6:15 p.m. to 6:15 a.m.-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.
“One of the biggest complaints we get from both passengers and local businesses is you end (the day) at 6 p.m. and we have people who don’t get off work until 6, 6:30 or 7 p.m.,” said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which operates Hall Area Transit.
Expanding routes is another significant option.
With Lanier Technical College moving to Ga. 365 near Howard Road, “we have to go there,” Moss said. “It’s just not an option. We just have to shift there.”
Lanier Tech President Ray Perren said he hopes services can continue after the campus moves in late 2018.
“Lanier Tech students have enjoyed the use of Hall Area Transit services for many years,” he said. “For some of our students, this is their primary form of transportation to and from the college.”
Also, the bus service probably also needs to serve Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton off Friendship Road/Ga. 347 in South Hall, she said.
King’s Hawaiian bakery in Oakwood and even Kubota operations in Jackson County also are interested in transit service.
“There are all these employers who are now saying, ‘Can you get our employees to us?’” Moss said.
Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s vice president of economic development, said he believes transit connections to employment centers are vital.
“To be able to plan those routes with employment opportunities in mind — and shifts in mind — would be important to the business community,” he said.
The issue with Gainesville-Hall County — and J.R. Wilburn & Associates compared the area with other similar markets, including Albany — is there are large gaps between dense or urbanized areas and less populated or developed ones.
That’s the case with the Braselton hospital near the Gwinnett, Barrow and Jackson County lines.
It may seem like a gulf exists between that area and Gainesville, “but what’s going to happen over time is ... everything is going to fill in between here and the hospital,” Moss said.
The study also confirms a long-held belief that commuter service to Atlanta is needed.
It suggests several options in that vein, including connecting with Gwinnett County Transit, which has a bus stop in Buford at Interstate 985’s Exit 4, or Hall Area Transit creating its own express service to Atlanta.
Commuter service could work in reverse, too, Evans pointed out.
Hall is “a single-county metro area because we have an equal to or greater number of people commuting into Hall County every day than we have commuting out,” he said. “The largest source of commuting into Hall County is coming from Gwinnett, at 10,000 (people) per day.
“And I don’t blame them. Compared to going south, going north to Hall County is much easier.”
Overall, the area’s transit future will be discussed as J.R. Wilburn & Associates presents its report to committees in the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Transportation Organization, Hall’s lead transportation planning agency, as well as area governments in coming months, Moss said.
The report also addresses Hall Area Transit’s Dial-A-Ride, a curbside transportation service that requires reservations at least 48 hours before pickup.
“If (the consultant gets) some information that’s counter to what they’ve presented, they’ll tweak the document,” Moss said. “Then it comes back to me to work with local governments to put it through the regular budget process.
“So, then, I’ve got to make a decision. What do we want to start with first?”