A plan to expand Augusta Public Transit across south and west Augusta and to Fort Gordon gained traction Monday as an Augusta Commission committee decided to hold a work session on the topic.
Commissioners Alvin Mason, Bill Lockett and Corey Johnson listed such a move as a goal during last week's commission retreat. The vote by the public services committee is a shift from a policy of the past three years of cutting transit costs, which led to a 2011 decision to outsource the bus service to a private company.
Mason said Augusta needs to escape its “somewhat archaic” view of public transit as a service used only by the very poor.
“Any city that's worth its weight … has a good transportation system that covers (the) entire city,” Mason said. “It's high time and past time that we start looking at increased transportation.”
The transit system was one factor that didn't work in the city's favor when Starbucks was weighing Augusta for a new plant, said former Starbucks site consultant Matt Kwatinetz at the retreat.
“In all the major cities, the young people are getting away from automobiles,” Lockett said.
Mason had already researched plans to extend routes to Fort Gordon, west Augusta and Columbia County. He invited community activist Brad Owens to speak about a plan he developed years ago to use spare city buses to run express routes from Fort Gordon to downtown.
Owens told the commission that at the time, he had full agreement from the post's garrison commander.
“Right now, it's a minimum of three soldiers per cab for $10 each,” Owens said. Round-trip, “that's $60 each.”
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle suggested scheduling a transit workshop within two weeks. His motion, seconded by Johnson, passed 3-0. Commissioner Grady Smith was absent because of illness.
Commissioners said little about how to pay for the service beyond existing tax revenue. The city's contract with Mobility Transit runs through 2016, but the commission has an opportunity to review it this year, officials have said.
Last year, the commission warned Mobility that it was in danger of default after the Florida firm didn’t pay vendors or perform testing appropriately.
“We're going to have to deal with that,” Johnson said.