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How Uber, Lyft may become part of transit solution for Hall
Hall Area Transit
A Gainesville Connection bus drops off seniors at the Fair Street Neighborhood Center one morning in July 2017. The fixed-route bus service is a service of Hall Area Transit. - photo by Scott Rogers

Local transit leaders are considering using options like Uber and Lyft to supplement or replace Hall Area Transit.

A major push for change is coming with the 2020 census, which may lead to Hall County being classified as a “large urban area” and the loss of $500,000 in annual public transit funding.

“It’s a significant loss of federal funding, and as a result, we are doing this micro-transit study to see whether we can provide this transit service to the population here using existing Uber, Lyft or another company called Via,” Sam Baker, transportation planning manager for the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization, said. “We would use their cars and vans to either supplement what Hall Area Transit provides or replace existing transit service.”

Officials with Hall Area Transit and the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization are requesting a two-month study be done to explore the “microtransit” options.

Uber and Lyft both operate in the area, but Via, a similar ride-sharing service, does not. New York-based Via will get $4,600 for the study.

The study will look at whether using ridesharing services or an app for public transit in Hall would be an economically sound option.

Community Service Center Director Phillippa Lewis Moss, who oversees Hall Area Transit, said the transit system sees about 160,000 to 200,000 rides each year. Those numbers have been stagnant over the past few years, she said.

Gwinnett County is doing a pilot program in an area of Snellville, where people can ask for a ride either using the Microtransit app or calling the Gwinnett County Transit customer service line. A public transit vehicle will then meet them at their location. The program started in September and is set to finish early next year, when the county will evaluate data before deciding how to move forward with microtransit.

Hall could either use county-owned vehicles for its microtransit program or enter a public-private partnership with a ride-sharing service to subsidize ride costs for the public, Baker said. Findings from the study would determine that decision, he said.

A study last year recommended the transit system expand its services, hours and route system, Moss said. But news that Hall would likely be designated a “large urban area” after the 2020 census, resulting in the loss of some funding, created a challenge. Since then, the GHMPO and the county have been looking at other options, including microtransit, she said.

The convenience of ride-sharing services also lines up with consumer expectations, Moss said.

“People want fast, effective and efficient service, and they don’t want to wait an hour for a bus or even 30 minutes for a bus,” Moss said. “They want to look at an app and tell somebody, ‘This is where I’m standing. Come get me.’”

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