Some days, Maria Lopez joins a car pool to get to work; other days, she takes her car.
But later this year, when Mincey Marble moves into its massive new plant off Calvary Church Road, the Gainesville resident hopes to ditch both in favor of Hall Area Transit’s fixed-route bus system, Gainesville Connection.
“I feel safer to ride the bus,” she said, noting the hectic traffic to her job as a finisher at Mincey Marble off Browns Bridge Road in West Hall.
Co-workers Joel Juarez and Steven Rentas said they’ll appreciate the convenience of hopping on a bus — and not paying the $20 to $30 weekly as part of a car pool.
Mincey will be one of numerous stops reaching dozens of employers being added as Hall Area Transit rolls out the first of several improvements recommended by a transit study released last year.
Starting perhaps as soon as July 1, the system is looking to add a route circulating around Oakwood and one along the Candler Highway/Calvary Church Road area in southeast Hall. Both routes are still being tweaked, but for now, the Oakwood route would travel as far south as Winder Highway/Ga. 53 at Martin Road/Sloan Mill Road, as far west as the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Oakwood clinic off Thurmon Tanner Parkway and north to McEver Road.
It also would cover stops already covered by Gainesville Connection, including the Wal-Mart and University of North Georgia off Mundy Mill Road.
And the Candler Highway/Calvary Church route would also travel along West Ridge Road to E.E. Butler Parkway/U.S. 129 and Martin Luther King Jr. and Industrial boulevards. It also would loop west on Aviation Boulevard and Palmour Drive near Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport before heading south on Ga. 60.
“That route has gotten a lot of excitement in the business community,” said Community Service Director Phillippa Lewis Moss, who oversees Hall Area Transit.
Some 100 employers could be touched by the new routes. Moss said she spent some time early on speaking with employers seeing the need for public transportation about the endeavor.
“As business leaders saw and heard other business leaders advocate for public transit, it kind of created some synergy,” she said. “From there, we started getting phone calls from other people (asking) ‘What about us?’”
One of those excited about the new routes is Mincey Marble President and CEO Donna Mincey.
“We are delighted to be working with (officials) to expand the local public transit system with a new bus route that includes service to Mincey’s employees at our future facility,” she said in a statement.
“We believe enhancing the bus system will make Gainesville-Hall County a more attractive place to work and live. It also will help businesses like ours to better recruit and retain workers here locally.”
The Oakwood route hits nearly 30 employers but also the dozens of businesses and merchants that line commercially bustling Mundy Mill Road.
“When looking at transportation, we recognize all the mobility needs beyond just personal vehicle travel,” Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said. “With that in mind, an expanded transit route is a logical step for us to better meet the needs of our citizens, businesses and UNG students.
“Since we have high-population locations in Oakwood such as employment centers, UNG, multi-family complexes and shopping destinations, our community is a prime candidate for expansion of Hall Area Transit.”
Hall Area Transit also is looking at expanding operating hours from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. to 4 a.m.-8 p.m.
“We may phase in (the longer hours) over time,” Moss said. “It just depends on how much financial resources we have.”
She said it’s possible the expansions could happen Sept. 1, but that’s not preferred. For one thing, July 1 is the start of Hall Area Transit’s fiscal year. But also, the days are longer in the summer.
“People are more inclined to try new things when they have daylight on their side,” Moss said.
Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, praised the new transit expansions.
“The old saying is ‘There’s no better social program ever invented than a good quality job,’” he said. “This is a way for a lot of people to get to and from work in a more convenient way.”