Looking to address cost concerns, the Hall County Board of Commissioners Tuesday signaled an interest in increasing fares to support the Hall Area Transit system.
That move came during a work session at which commissioners discussed the future of the system, which is jointly run by the city of Gainesville and Hall County through the Community Service Center.
A fare increase would require 30 days' notice for a public hearing.
The Hall Area Transit system has come under scrutiny from some commissioners — particularly from Craig Lutz — looking to control budget costs.
Reducing the system's funding or scrapping it altogether have been listed as options for addressing budget concerns.
Commissioners unanimously spoke in favor of considering a fare increase, after a presentation from Community Service Director Phillippa Lewis Moss outlining benefits, costs and possible scenarios for cuts.
County Chairman Tom Oliver proposed the increase as a way to address cost concerns. However, Lutz said he still wanted to look at other options, too.
For now, there are no specific numbers associated with proposed increases.
Later on Tuesday, Gainesville City Council also approved beginning the hearing process for fare increases during its regularly scheduled meeting. Both the Hall Commission and Gainesville City Council would have to approve the increases.
For the current fiscal year, Hall County and the city of Gainesville each budgeted about $280,000 for the transit system. Meanwhile, federal and state grants accounted for about $755,000 of funding.
"I think it's appropriate to look at a fare increase," said Commissioner Ashley Bell, a strong supporter of the transit program.
Bell cited that fares had not risen in 10 years.
"We need everyone to put some skin in the game," he said.
Commissioners also asked Moss to seek funds from other Hall County municipalities whose residents use the transit system.
Hall County Transit provides two kinds of services. The most recognizable is the Red Rabbit, a fixed-route bus service that primarily serves Gainesville and Oakwood.
Red Rabbit has relatively short trips, higher density rides and is more cost effective. It also doesn't serve everyone in the county.
"I still have concerns," said Lutz, the South Hall commissioner. "Red Rabbit doesn't serve my district. We're paying for a service that in not being used down here."
He added that he's not looking for the service to expand Red Rabbit to Flowery Branch either.
Dial-A-Ride is a para-transit service that provides curbside pickup for residents, largely to elderly, disabled and other clients of the Georgia's Department of Human Services. Dial-A-Ride serves the entire county, but is less cost efficient because of longer-distance rides and fewer riders.
With the county expected to face another budget shortfall, the transit system and other Community Center services have been mentioned as one source for additional cuts.
Splitting the system, with the county taking over responsibility for Dial-A-Ride and the city of Gainesville taking over Red Rabbit, has been discussed as an option.
Lutz said he does see value in the Dial-A-Ride service, but still has questions about it.
"I want to know who is really using it," he said, citing concerns about some customers who ride Dial-A-Ride for free as clients of the Georgia Department of Human Services.
In her presentation, Moss tried to highlight the importance of the service in increasing commuting options and helping lower-income and disabled residents get around the county.
She added that participation from both the city and county were valuable in sharing costs and coordinating efforts.
That's why exploring fare increases seemed like a good possible alternative.
"If I could keep the city and county married on the side of providing public transport, I'd be happy to do that," she said.
After the Gainesville City Council approved participating in exploring that option, Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said it was essential for Gainesville and Hall County to continue to work together in transit.
"We can't afford as a community to just drop the service," she said.