Plans to expand the Gainesville Connection’s service hours and routes are on hold while staff members conduct further research on the impact that the 2020 census will have on federal public transit funds.
The fixed-rate bus system, operated by Hall Area Transit, had been looking to add a route circulating around Oakwood and one along the Candler Highway/Calvary Church Road area in southeast Hall, possibly by July 1.
Hall Area Transit also considered expanding operating hours from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. to 4 a.m.-8 p.m.
But new concerns have arisen, mainly the potential that Hall Area Transit would lose federal funding by the 2020 census showing Hall’s population topping 200,000 and triggering a designation change from “small urban” to “large urban.”
Area officials believe Hall’s population already has eclipsed 200,000, with the numbers expected to continue surging. This year alone, some 3,000 homes have been approved or are being built in Hall.
“Initially, we thought that the operating funding would be cut entirely, but I’ve since learned that we will have a small amount of operating funds available to us,” said Community Service Director Phillippa Lewis Moss, who oversees Hall Area Transit.
“We will also still have capital dollars to purchase buses and equipment, and these funds can also be used for maintenance.”
Moss said she is working with staff “to explore some new models for delivering transit services,” such as “microtransit,” a public shuttle service that mirrors app-centered, pick-up services such as Uber and Lyft.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done to determine if this and/or some combination of traditional transit and other models will work for our community,” she said.
“The biggest hurdle to overcome is our relative low density,” Moss said. “The concept of microtransit works particularly well in densely populated areas, so it’s going to take something for us to find the right formula for Gainesville.”
Hall Area Transit has worked particularly to connect riders to their jobs, with the new routes expected to reach as many 100 employers.
In a February interview, Moss said the July 1 startup was preferable, as it is the start of Hall Area Transit’s fiscal year and there’s more daylight in the summer.
But she has said the expansions could happen Sept. 1.
The move has drawn praise from public officials.
“When looking at transportation, we recognize all the mobility needs beyond just personal vehicle travel,” Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said. “With that in mind, an expanded transit route is a logical step for us to better meet the needs of our citizens, businesses and (college) students.”