May 3, 2017

Mayor Denson Proposes New Eastside Circulator, Cutting Night Buses

City Dope

Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file

Mayor Nancy Denson’s proposed budget for fiscal 2018, released Apr. 28, adds a new Athens Transit route serving East Athens, but at the cost of eliminating buses after 7:45 p.m.

The new route would be “a flex route” that’s “very similar to The Link,” vans that circulated around suburban and rural neighborhoods and were cut several years ago. The “flex route” would run on a fixed route in the eastern part of the county from Commerce Road to the Eastside Walmart to Winterville—mostly areas that currently aren’t served by buses. But unlike fixed-route buses, riders who live near the route could call ahead and have the van come to their doorstep. It would drop them off at a bus stop where they could catch a fixed-route bus to their destination.

Athens Transit Director Butch McDuffie said he also proposed a westside flex route for the Caterpillar/Bogart area, but that wasn’t approved. The eastside route will serve as sort of a pilot project, he said. “We’ll test it out for a year, and see if we can get some folks to ride,” he said.

The eastside flex route would cost $245,000. Denson has proposed offsetting most of that cost by stopping bus service at 7:45 p.m. rather than the current 9:45 p.m., saving $165,000. That wasn’t McDuffie’s choice, but department heads are required to submit balanced budgets, so if they want something, they have to be willing to give something else up.

Those two hours of service are incredibly inefficient, averaging only about two passengers per bus per hour (25 total per day on six routes), costing about $40 per rider, McDuffie said. But most of those people need the bus to get home from work, he said.

“It would be disappointing if we lost services, especially after being named best urban transit system for 2016” by the Community Transportation Association of America, he said.

Ultimately, that will be up to ACC commissioners, who have restored Denson’s proposed cuts to late-night bus service before. They’ll start digging into the $124 million budget—and take public comment—at a work session Thursday, May 4.