Red Rabbit fare increase public hearings
When: 2 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Gainesville State College, Student Center Room A, 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood
When: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Georgia Mountains Center, Board Room, 301 Main St., Gainesville
Riders of Hall County’s Red Rabbit bus system appear ready for change ahead of Wednesday’s public hearings to discuss potential fare increases.
In a survey conducted earlier this month, the majority of passengers said they were amenable to at least some form of fare increase. Those increases may affect discounts given to certain passengers, and it’s unclear whether those specific passengers are supportive of the increases.
In March, the Hall County Board of Commissioners asked Hall Area Transit to look at raising fees for Red Rabbit to make the bus system self-sustainable as the county prepares for another difficult budget year.
Gainesville City Council, a partner in the bus system, followed the commission’s lead by supporting the move to hold this week’s public meetings, which will allow residents to weigh in on the matter.
Although the system is largely funded through federal grants, Hall County and Gainesville jointly manage the system through the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center.
The survey of passengers asked them to rate potential changes to the bus system with response options of “good,” “bad” and “I don’t know.”
Seventy-nine percent of respondents supported eliminating a discount for children, seniors, students and the disabled to make the fare $1 for everyone.
Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Center, said it’s possible that those who supported this option were already paying the $1 fare, so the increase wouldn’t necessarily affect everyone who supported it.
Forty-nine percent opposed an across-the-board fare increase of 25 cents, and 38 percent said they would support it.
One of those willing to pay more is longtime rider Gwen Barber, who told The Times after filling out her survey that she would be willing to pay up to 50 cents more if it would keep the buses running.
Barber takes Red Rabbit three or four times a week to get to the doctor, grocery stores and the unemployment office. She doesn’t own a car, she said, and a recent medical procedure has made it hard for the 54-year-old to walk.
Fifty-four percent were against a proposal to eliminate free transfers but keep rates steady. That option is backed by Moss.
Fifty-six percent were against eliminating one of the routes that runs to Northeast Georgia Medical Center.
Forty-four percent were willing to reduce hours of operation.
While reaction’s from riders were mixed, some type of fare increase looks to have broad support from commissioners.
“We haven’t had a fare increase in 10 years. I think it’s long due,” Commissioner Billy Powell told The Times earlier this month.
In addition to asking riders to rate potential changes, the survey also asked passengers questions on age, employment and income levels to monitor the demographics of riders.
The results showed most passengers who road, 88 percent, didn’t have a car. Many passengers were scraping by with income levels near the poverty line; 74 percent reported a household income of less than $15,000. And 42 percent of surveyed riders are currently unemployed.
The numbers for the survey were compiled by Bill Lightfoot and Lila Weaver of Brenau University School of Business & Mass Communications. Moss praised the university for stepping in to offer a hand with the results.