Gainesville’s unique ridesharing transit system, WeGo, will go electric using federal funds from recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure legislation.
About $13.8 million in the massive spending package will go directly to Gainesville public transit, according to a statement from U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff. Gainesville is one of 15 city and county governments in the state receiving direct funds as part of the legislation.
The funding will allow the city to gradually replace its current 17-van WeGo fleet with zero-emissions vehicles, said Phillippa Lewis Moss, Gainesville’s community service center director. This year, the city replaced its fixed-route bus system, Gainesville Connection and its Dial-a Ride service with WeGo, an on-demand ride-sharing service that operates similar to Uber. WeGo has an app that allows users anywhere in Hall County to order a ride 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Fees are $2 for any trip up to 5 miles and 50 cents for every mile afterward.
Moss said she had been working with Ossoff’s staff for the past year to provide local input on this and other legislation.
“When our current vehicles reach their useful life, we can actually start to acquire electric vehicles, which I think will be a wonderful contribution to our community and really be a nod to our desire to preserve the pristine nature of the lake and mountain community in which we live,” Moss said.
It’s still unclear what all the money may be used for. The funds must go toward “public transit,” but Moss said, there may be available uses other than WeGo and the downtown Gainesville Trolley that could qualify.
“Our understanding is that funds allocated from this bill can be utilized for both operations and capital,” City Manager Bryan Lackey wrote in a statement. “As we get more details, we will evaluate and determine how we can use this funding to grow our WeGo system to meet the increasing demands on our transit system for this popular, new service while ensuring the additional future operational costs are sustainable for the system.”
Going electric will also require building charging stations, investing in power supplies and changing current maintenance facilities to accommodate electric vehicles, Moss said. The city also plans to upgrade its WeGo app to show users when the best times to get a ride would be and improve tracking data.
“The benefit of electricity is it’s a lot less expensive than gas and diesel, so the operating cost for our community over time — it will be incredibly cost efficient,” she said.
WeGo was funded initially in December 2020 using $1.9 million of federal CARES money.
Moss said WeGo has been a more popular and efficient service than Gainesville Connection. More than 5,500 people rode on WeGo in October 2021, while only 3,845 people rode Gainesville Connection in October 2020, and WeGo has been used for 34,650 rides since it started in December 2020, according to Hall Area Transit Services data.
Moss gets multiple calls a week from other cities in the area asking about how WeGo works and how they might implement the micro-transit system.
“It’s been a game changer,” Moss said. “It’s like the fax machine for public transit.”
Moss said she expects the federal money will be spent over four to six years.
Georgia as a whole will receive about $8.9 billion for highways, $225 million to repair bridges, $1.3 billion for transit expansion, $619 million for airports, and $135 million to build electric vehicle charging stations. Gainesville and Hall County officials said they do not yet know how this money would be distributed locally.