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Red Rabbit bus service faces pivotal week
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The fate of the Red Rabbit fixed-route bus service may be decided this week as the city of Gainesville and Hall County are both expected to vote on an agreement to keep it operating.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners on Monday discussed an intergovernmental agreement that would transfer the assets and more than a dozen buses to the city if it agreed to own and operate the bus system. Gainesville would become the grantee instead of the county and assume all liabilities.

“Saved the Red Rabbit,” Chairman Richard Mecum said. “That’s all I was after.”

The commissioners made a couple of changes to the agreement, having it expire on June 30, 2014, and adding a period of notice if one of the governments decides to reduce the service level or ends its participation in a Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center program.

Hall Area Transit is part of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which is jointly funded by the city and the county. The center offers services to residents, including financial assistance, meals to seniors and a senior center. It’s been a target for budget cuts in the past few years.

The Gainesville City Council could vote on the agreement at its meeting this evening. The bus system is facing a May 10 deadline from the U.S. Department of Transportation. It’s funded 50 percent by the Federal Transit Administration, and the rest was split 50-50 between Gainesville and Hall County.

Commissioner Craig Lutz said he wants to bring Dial-A-Ride bus service under the county, but commissioners already approved the grant funding for that service before they made the decision on Red Rabbit. The 2014 expiration date gives the county time to change the operation of it to the county. Gainesville will operate it for the next year.

“I would have loved to have Dial-A-Ride come in-house this year, but unfortunately we couldn’t because as part of the grant application we had said the city of Gainesville is going to operate it,” Lutz said.

In the agreement, Gainesville assumes all financial responsibility for the Red Rabbit system, which runs mostly in the city, while Hall County assumes full financial responsibility for the Dial-A-Ride service, which is a curbside service requiring a reservation. It’s considered a rural system, while Red Rabbit is considered more urban.

The commission declined to apply for $400,000 in federal money to operate the fixed-route bus service after the 2013 fiscal year ends at the end of June. The system is expected to end in July unless the city agrees to take it over.

Commissioner Jeff Stowe said he was confident Gainesville will have enough time to consider the changes the county made in time for its meeting today.

“It should be on their agenda for tomorrow night,” Stowe said Monday.