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Private bus operator Mobility declares success

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 The decision to outsource Au­gusta Public Transit remains controversial, but new operator Mobility Transit Services says ridership is higher since the private firm took over.

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Augusta Mall patrons board an Augusta Public Transit bus. New bus operator Mobility Transit Services says ridership is higher since the private firm took over.  CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
CHRIS THELEN/STAFF
Augusta Mall patrons board an Augusta Public Transit bus. New bus operator Mobility Transit Services says ridership is higher since the private firm took over.

Mobility General Manager Mike Rosson said the number of bus riders increased 12 percent from August through October compared to the same period in 2010. Ridership also grew by 11 percent on Augusta Public Transit’s rural ride service, and by 2 percent on its paratransit service for people with disabilities, he said.

During 2010 and 2009, Augusta Public Transit averaged about 2,300 individual weekday trips, according to data filed with the Federal Transit Administration. Rosson said Mobility will present its data and recommendations to the Augusta Commission next month.

Mobility, a foreign limited liability corporation registered in Florida doing business out of Knoxville, Tenn., has only one client: Augusta. Company President Kevin Adams has cited his more than 30 years experience both with public transit systems and private operators such as Veolia and Greyhound Lines.

In June, the firm won a five-year contract to run Augusta Public Transit at an annual cost less than the approximately $5 million the city has spent in recent years to run it. The vote was 6-3, and the opposed commissioners -- Corey Johnson, Alvin Mason and Bill Lockett -- continue to question the move, which left about 70 city employees without jobs. Most were hired by Mobility – with some now earning both city pensions and Mobility salaries.

The busiest bus route remains Route 12, which carries passengers from downtown to Augusta Mall by way of Augusta State University and Georgia Health Sciences University. Students with valid identification ride for free.

“Since we have been here we have seen a tremendous increase,” Rosson said, attributing the increase to higher university enrollment, “getting the word out” and better service.

Staying on schedule

Feeding into greater ridership is drivers’ ability to stay on schedule, allowing riders to board and make connections on time in a clean, well-maintained bus, Rosson said.

He said Mobility hasn’t had to pay any of the penalties detailed in the company’s contract with Augusta. According to the agreement, Mobility must pay $100 each time a driver leaves a stop too soon, $50 per missed trip, $500 if riders levy more than 30 complaints with the city during a quarter and numerous other fines for various transit-related infractions. Plus, Mobility is required to provide a monthly database of complaints to the city.

“We stay focused on the job we need to do,” Rosson said. “We stay very in tune to the contract; we stay very in tune to the community.”

Riders still want more, however, including members of Augusta Bus Riders Association, who detailed many complaints while the city was considering outsourcing.

Association President Geraldine Wilson acknowledged the buses are running on schedule but repeated a common complaint about limited routes and hours and lack of Sunday service.

Restaurant workers, for instance, typically get off at least two hours after the last bus run to the mall or Augusta Exchange; other workers need to clock in early in the morning.

The alternative is a pricey cab ride, said Wilson, who thought she’d have to walk home Friday because the last Washington Road bus left the station at 5:50 p.m.

“It’s really impacting people’s livelihood,” she said. “The people really need the buses to run to at least 10 o’clock at night.”

Karen Ellis, a retired former editor of the Fort Gordon Signal who frequents the paratransit service because she has multiple sclerosis, shared a similar complaint about the limited service.

“Persons with disabilities have more to do than go to the doctor Monday through Friday,” said Ellis, who has had to spend $50 on a cab to church, versus a $3 paratransit ride.

Questions persist

Augusta Commission members who opposed the move continue to question why the city outsourced transit management.

Lockett has reiterated a call for an external forensic audit of the decision to hire Mobility along with other city decisions involving public-private partnerships.

Johnson questioned Mobility’s background in buses, saying the firm is relying on knowledgeable Augusta Public Transit employees it brought over to keep the system running.

“If we wanted to just keep it mediocre, we could have kept the plan we had,” Johnson said.

Mobility has continued the nine routes and schedule that were in place when it took over, but potentially will present ideas for changing the service to the commission next month, according to Rosson. Suggested routes to Fort Gordon and Sunday routes, for instance, “may be part of our overview that we give to the commissioners,” he said.

In the meantime, Mobility has recently returned staffing levels to normal, a critical factor in reducing employee overtime. But that is also a challenge because the firm has a detailed screening process, including a background check, drug screen, driving history and Department of Transportation physical, he said.

Other city officials cite their lack of phone calls as evidence Mobility may be doing a good job.

“I don’t think I’ve had a single one since they took over,” City Administrator Fred Russell said.

There’s another change on the horizon for Augusta Public Transit: Plans to sell facilities at 1548 and 1568 Broad St. and 1529 Fenwick St.

Russell said the valuable property probably isn’t worth the cash-strapped city retaining it, and that long-term plans are to move the bus fleet, and eventually the entire fleet, to a joint Richmond County Board of Education maintenance facility on Mike Padgett Highway. The move won’t affect downtown riders, who will continue to board and change buses downtown, he said.

Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle said he was pleased with Mobility so far.

“I have not heard one complaint since they took over,” Guilfoyle said. “I see the buses hitting the bus stops with the schedule signs on them; the buses are clean and I have yet to hear from the Bus Riders Association,” he said.

Comments (14) Add comment
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Brad Owens
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Brad Owens 12/12/11 - 05:04 am
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"Mobility...will present

"Mobility...will present ideas for changing the service to the commission next month, according to Rosson. Suggested routes to Fort Gordon"

Ft. Gordon? Oh goodness, you will be fighting taxi drivers again. The OWN Ft. Gordon and Mr. Fields will use his clout to stop this again.

Brad

OhWell
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OhWell 12/12/11 - 07:41 am
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You hit the nail on the head!

You hit the nail on the head! Clout with Mr. Fields and his silent backers will do all they can to stop someone from stealing the honey out of their nest.

Riverman1
83622
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Riverman1 12/12/11 - 08:20 am
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Plain old greedy American

Plain old greedy American capitalism at its best. Works every time.

Fundamental_Arminian
1849
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Fundamental_Arminian 12/12/11 - 09:18 am
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Public transportation would

Public transportation would be much less costly for Fort Gordon's soldiers than private taxi-cab fares are. We owe our soldiers the convenience of affordable, dependable public transportation.

While we're at it, why not look into providing bus service to Augusta Regional Airport?

Little Lamb
45867
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Little Lamb 12/12/11 - 09:24 am
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Why not create a new taxi

Why not create a new taxi company, funded entirely by taxpayers, to provide free taxi service to Fort Gordon service personnel and even civilians? Take them anywhere they want to go, day or night at no charge. Pie in the sky is wonderful.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/12/11 - 09:28 am
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Geraldine Wilson

Geraldine Wilson complained:

Restaurant workers, for instance, typically get off at least two hours after the last bus run to the mall or Augusta Exchange.

Well then, let us have some special bus routes set up for restaurant workers at Augusta Mall and Augusta Exchange. Be sure there is bus service every night until the last restaurant worker has gone home. Oh, yes, and make the service free to the riders and send the bill to the taxpayers.

Riverman1
83622
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Riverman1 12/12/11 - 09:30 am
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I say leave this private

I say leave this private company alone and let them do what the market and profits dictate. Believe it or not, it will work out perfectly.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 12/12/11 - 09:34 am
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From the article

From the article above:

“Persons with disabilities have more to do than go to the doctor Monday through Friday,” said Karen Ellis (multiple sclerosis victim), who has had to spend $50 on a cab to church.

Well then, let us provide bus service to and from all churches, synagogues and mosques each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The fare should be no more than $3.00 round trip, with the shortfall being paid by the taxpayer.

Riverman1
83622
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Riverman1 12/12/11 - 09:35 am
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LL, I know you are an Ayn

LL, I know you are an Ayn Rand Objectivist. Who would think we could get into a philosophical discussion concerning bus service, but it is so apt here. Laissez faire capitalism will create the best bus service possible. I have no doubt.

Little Lamb
45867
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Little Lamb 12/12/11 - 09:41 am
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I agree, RM. Laissez faire

I agree, RM. Laissez faire capitalism would also bring in a better taxi service for the city. The city government puts so much red tape on the taxi companies that the fares are higher than they would be in a free market.

Fundamental_Arminian
1849
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Fundamental_Arminian 12/12/11 - 09:41 am
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"Why not create a new taxi

"Why not create a new taxi company, funded entirely by taxpayers, to provide free taxi service to Fort Gordon service personnel and even civilians? Take them anywhere they want to go, day or night at no charge. Pie in the sky is wonderful" (LL).

There's a difference between affordable transportation and free transportation. Today's soldiers aren't paid much, because of skewed federal calculations on the cost of living (you'd think we had no inflation).

Affordable transportation might let more soldiers visit our community to shop. Of course, I agree with Riverman1 that this private company should get to make recommendations based on funds, profits, and potential ridership. Fort Gordon and Augusta Regional Airports, however, may have the promise of profitable routes with good ridership.

raul
4837
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raul 12/12/11 - 11:54 am
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@LL. Feisty today, aren't we!

@LL. Feisty today, aren't we! Ha. Ha. I agree with your sarcasm, though.

Brad Owens
4422
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Brad Owens 12/12/11 - 12:49 pm
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I caught the taxi company

I caught the taxi company double dipping on soldiers when I worked at the airport. They were charging the AIT soldeirs the fare and the n getting the duty Sgt to sigh off on the fare as well. Not all of them were doing it, but I printed up signs to let the soldiers know that the way to get to t Gordon was to go out and grab the first taxis in line, it was PAID FOR and they were NOT to pay themslevs. One of the taxi drivers filed a complaint with the US Airways manager and I told him that I was a SSG in the US Army Reserves and that I was also a tax payer. Allowing these soldeirs to be chaeated was not an option for me. The manager told the taxi drivers if they didn't like it, stop doing it.

I am no fan of monopoly business practices like Fields had a t the airport for years. I helped fight that to open up the airport for indie taxis and also supported bus service from the Fort.

LL, you are too funny today.

Little Lamb
45867
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Little Lamb 12/12/11 - 02:40 pm
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From the article we

From the article we learn:

Augusta Commission members who opposed the move continue to question why the city outsourced transit management. Commissioner Bill Lockett has reiterated a call for an external forensic audit of the decision to hire Mobility along with other city decisions involving public-private partnerships.

It must be lonely and/or frustrating to be Bill Lockett. I can't decide whether he is our times’ John the Baptist (a voice crying in the wilderness) or Sancho Panza (tilting at windmills). So six or seven commissioners voted to privatize the bus service, the new company is generating no complaints, but Lockett is asking, “Why did y’all do that?”

There are three types of people: Those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who wonder what happened. Lockett is wondering what happened.

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