Ridership levels on Hall Area Transit’s Red Rabbit bus routes have rebounded since new fares were implemented last October, but revenue from the service remains flat.
That was the news given to Gainesville City Council on Thursday morning during a work session.
Now route schedules and fare structures are being reviewed again to maximize ridership and revenue, with recommended changes likely to come before the end of the year.
In August 2012, bus fares for adult riders were increased to $1.25 from $1 and transfer fares between routes were eliminated in favor of a $3 daily pass good for unlimited use. Meanwhile, fares for elderly and disabled riders were increased to 60 cents from 50 cents.
But those changes resulted in a revenue drop of 17 percent, according to transit officials.
“The results were not expected,” said John Bartosiewicz, chief operating officer of McDonald Transit, which provides transportation management services for Hall Area Transit.
So in October, the adult fare fell back to $1 while elderly and disabled riders were allowed to use the bus service for free.
“Ridership had dropped so dramatically,” Gainesville-Hall Community Service Center Director Phillippa Lewis Moss said, explaining the most recent change in fares.
Ridership has increased 23 percent since the most recent fare change, and transit officials hope revenues will follow that trend.
Revenue generation, however, is only meant to offset a small portion of the cost to run the bus service. For the current fiscal year, the service is expected to cost about $950,000 to operate, with the city chipping in about $450,000 and the federal government contributing about $390,000. Fare revenues for the year are estimated to top $111,000.
“No transit service makes a profit,” Bartosiewicz said.
Despite the fact the bus service is ultimately an expense the city shoulders from year to year, some members of City Council expressed support for reinstating fares for elderly and disabled riders.
Councilman George Wangemann said riders of all ages should feel a responsibility to pay for the service provided.
Mayor Danny Dunagan agreed, even while expressing support for keeping fares low.
“But free, I’m not for it,” he said.
According to Bartosiewicz, Hall Area Transit is the only bus service in Georgia that gives free rides to elderly and disabled riders.
“Let us get ourselves back on the right track, then we can justify a fare increase,” Moss said.
In addition to reviewing fare structures, McDonald Transit has recommended changes to Hall Area Transit’s Route 6 line, which runs between the Wal-Mart on Shallowford Road and the area around Lanier Technical College and Wal-Mart in Oakwood.
Because this route requires most riders to make two bus transfers, Bartosiewicz advises eliminating the Shallowford Road stop and replacing it with the central transfer point on Main Street. This, he said, should encourage greater use.
Bartosiewicz said McDonald Transit would conduct a complete review of all routes and provide recommendations for increasing ridership before the end of the year.
“It’s always a good idea to get a third-party evaluation of your operations,” Moss told The Times in an email.
“The presentation ... indicated that there are system improvements that must be made to draw more riders to the transit system while also generating a respectable fare box return.”