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Hall County transit service is finally connecting
Ridership rebounding for rebranded bus service
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Changing fares

Current prices
Riders ages 8 and older: $1
Children 7 and younger: free
Seniors (60 and older; with valid ID): 50 cents
People with disabilities (with valid ID): 50 cents
Transfer to another bus: $1
Daily passes with unlimited rides: $3
Monthly passes with unlimited rides for riders ages 7-59: $40
Monthly passes with unlimited rides for seniors and persons with disabilities: $30

Taking effect July 1
Riders ages 7-59: $1
Children 6 and younger: free
Seniors (60 and older; with valid ID): 50 cents
People with disabilities (with valid ID): 50 cents
Transfer to another bus: 25 cents
Daily passes with unlimited rides: $2
Monthly passes with unlimited rides for riders ages 7-59: $30
Monthly passes with unlimited rides for seniors and persons with disabilities: $20

Ridership on Gainesville’s public transit system isn’t near Red Rabbit levels, but officials are optimistic about the fixed-route bus service’s future numbers.

More than one year after Gainesville Connection buses started rolling and the Red Rabbit was retired, the number of riders is expected to hit 175,000 this year.

That’s a far cry from the 208,654 in 2012 reached by Red Rabbit, which had operated since January 2000.

But Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which operates the bus service, said she believes ridership should exceed 2012 figures by 2016.

“We’ve been very happy with how well the new brand has been received by our passengers and other members of the community,” she said.

“Everyone likes the simple but friendly new look with bright blue and green colors that are meant to symbolize the lake and mountains that surround us.”

Moss is optimistic even with route tweaks and fare changes taking effect July 1.

“Overall, the routes will offer our passengers easier connectivity from one route to another because the buses will arrive at stops 15 minutes before and after the hour,” Moss said.

“This minor tweak to the schedule will help most passengers who finish appointments on the hour or half hour to catch the next bus within 15 to 30 minutes.”

The Red Rabbit was part of — as Gainesville Connection is today — Hall Area Transit, which, overall, has served the Gainesville and Hall residents since 1983.

“Its mission is to provide efficient, effective and affordable public transportation that will allow riders to access jobs, retail shops, recreational facilities, medical/dental offices, social service agencies, government offices and other important community sites,” states Hall Area Transit’s website.

But also, it is intended to help reduce traffic congestion and minimize air pollution.

“It also encourages new generations of Hall Countians to consider alternatives to driving in single occupancy vehicles,” according to the transit service.

Despite high numbers, Red Rabbit’s last couple of years weren’t exactly smooth.

Fares were doubled in fall 2012 “following tough budget discussions,” with ridership diving in 2013 to 143,126, Moss said.

Then, in April 2013, the bus service ran into political trouble with the Hall County Board of Commissioners, which declined $400,000 in grant money to continue operating the service.

Gainesville City Council later voted to take over the service effective July 1, 2013.

The turn of events, Moss said at the time, “was startling and unsettling, but ... not something that’s going to stop us, because at the end of the day we’re committed to the residents of this community.”

In early 2014, officials announced they were ditching the Red Rabbit monicker in favor of Gainesville Connection.

“It was time to give the rabbit a break,” Moss said at the time.

Officials said they believed 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,” Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann said.

The new name, they said, is meant to capture just how valuable the bus service is in bringing the local community together, officials said.

Ridership began to creep up in 2014, with numbers hitting 153,049.

In October, officials announced they were extending hours for the transit system, altering some routes and reinstating transfer fees as part of changes to increase ridership and revenues.

The transit service held public input hearings last year and got a wide range of opinions on the changes from residents.

“Once the word spreads that (buses are) going to Dollar Tree, I think we’re just going to have Christmas in July,” said Gabriele Jackson of the discount store on John W. Morrow Jr. Parkway.

Initially, the changes were to occur April 1 but were put off until July 1, mainly to line up with the start of its fiscal year.

“There are state and federal agencies that we must report our ridership and lots of other data to,” and it’s easier having those numbers fall in line with the fiscal year, Moss said.

But the delay also will help “will give us sufficient time to provide rider education and deliver new marketing materials,” she said.

Moss hopes to kick off the marketing campaign, “Connecting You,” by the end of May.

“What we do best is connect our passengers to the people, places and things that are important to them,” she said.

“Local business are the big winners when it comes to public transit because buses get people to work where they make money and then to retail stores where they purchase the goods and services that are important to them.

“Institutions of higher education, local parks, nonprofit and government agencies also benefit from public transit because we make it easy for them to connect to their students, players, clients and constituents.”

A couple of riders at Hall Area Transit’s Main Street station said last week that while they were satisfied with Gainesville Connection, they would like to see Saturday service.

“A lot of folks need it on the weekend,” Gainesville resident Warren Forrest said. “I’m from Charleston, S.C., and to move here and not have a transit system running on the weekends, I’m not used to.

“I think they would get a lot more people riding the bus if they had a weekend service.”

Cory Haynes said residents could use the bus service to get to events on Saturdays. Plus, shopping destinations would be popular.

Moss said that in a September customer service survey, 87 percent of passenger respondents said they wanted weekend service and 82 percent wanted evening service.

“Clearly, our riders have places to go and things to do and they need our assistance,” Moss said.

Such an endeavor likely would require some $50,000 in additional funding, including from passenger fares, she said.

But passengers may have to wait a while.

“When our annual ridership reaches 300,000, I believe I can justifying such an expansion request to our elected officials,” Moss said.

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