Athens Transit Director Butch McDuffie has requested funding to keep up the Sunday service experiment for another year.
Mayor Nancy Denson included $293,000 for Sunday buses in Athens-Clarke County’s budget last year, with the caveat that the service had to prove popular or it would be canceled. The goal was for Sunday ridership to reach Saturday’s levels within three years.
So far, Athens Transit is seeing an average of 1,000 riders on Sundays compared to 1,400 on Saturdays, “which I think is great for a new service,” McDuffie said. The most popular routes are 20 (to the mall) and 25 (to the Eastside Walmart), as well as the No. 9 bus that takes students who live on South Milledge Avenue and Macon Highway to campus dining halls.
Denson won’t submit her proposed 2017 budget until the end of April, so it remains to be seen if she’ll approve McDuffie’s request. If not, the commission could still restore Sunday service before voting to approve the budget in June.
McDuffie talked to reporters during a public hearing Feb. 9 to gather input for a study of the various transit services in Athens and how they can operate more efficiently. The study is looking at not only Athens Transit and UGA Campus Transit, but private apartment-complex shuttles and other options, such as Uber and taxis.
“At the end of the day, they’re always more expensive,” said Rachel Hatcher of consulting firm RS&H. “They always have been, and they always will be. What we want to address is, ‘Why isn’t transit your No. 1 choice?’”
Few people came to the hearing last Tuesday, but more opportunities for comment are coming up at 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Tuesday, Mar. 1 at the Multimodal Center, and a survey is available online at surveymonkey.com/r/Athenstransit.
So far, McDuffie said he is hearing requests for service to Commerce Road/Highway 441, as well as for more frequent service in general. Cost-benefit analyses are needed before deciding whether to offer those services, he said.
Any recommendations as a result of the study will be presented to the ACC Mayor and Commission in May, McDuffie said—too late for the budget cycle, but commissioners could always amend the budget to add new services in August, when changes to bus routes and schedules usually take effect.
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