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Transit talk needs to connect dots between service, economic development
Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, makes a point during a public meeting Thursday to discuss future transit options.

For Gainesville resident Albert Powers, having public bus service on Saturdays would help him out on paydays.

“It knocks out two hours of my (work) day just to pay for the cab fare,” he said.

But making big transit ideas happen, including weekend bus service and expanding routes to more places in Hall County, such as Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton, takes more money and political will.

And officials, who held public meetings Thursday on a 5-year plan addressing transit needs, say it all starts with marketing the widely held notion that more riders means more dollars flowing into the local economy.

“It’s all about how you language it,” said Phillippa Lewis Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Service Center, which operates Hall Area Transit.

“I don’t think there’s a commissioner or council person who would say, ‘I’m not for economic development,’” she said. “They all are. What we, and specifically I, haven’t done a great job of doing is helping them connect the dots so they can tell their constituents why (more transit) is viable.”

Moss said Hall County has several essential transit stops.

The new hospital off Ga. 347 in deep South Hall — near the Gwinnett and Barrow county lines — “is a no-brainer,” she said.

“We need to get more parts in Oakwood, where you have students trying to connect to the (University of North Georgia),” Moss said. “We need to get to Flowery Branch because that’s the center of urban growth.

“Now that Lanier (Technical College) is moving north, we’ve got to go there.”

Lanier Tech broke ground in September for a new $100 million campus on Howard Road off Ga. 365. Classes are planned to start at the new facilities in January 2019.

Hall Area Transit’s fixed-route system, Gainesville Connection, is mostly centered around Gainesville.

The transit system, which has served Gainesville and Hall since 1983, also operates Dial-A-Ride, a curbside transportation service that requires reservations at least 48 hours before pickup.

Officials have contracted with J.R. Wilburn and Associates for a $62,500 study — funded by a federal transit planning grant — to look at future transit needs and offer recommendations for future service options.

Updating a plan that dates to 2008, “it will be used as a guide to help staff plan future transit operations to include route expansion, vehicle purchases and staffing,” Moss said.

The final document, expected to be completed by Nov. 30, also will “include a strategy for starting a new express bus service to Atlanta.”

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