The Brookings Institution study ranks metro Augusta 97th out of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas for its ability to get a worker to a job within 90 minutes via public transit. It also ranked the area 95th for having jobs in neighborhoods with public transit.
“The suburbanization of jobs obstructs transit’s ability to connect workers to opportunity, and jobs to local labor pools,” study author Adie Tomer wrote.
The metro area has no regional public transportation system. The cash-strapped, privately-managed Augusta Public Transit is the area’s largest but has only nine routes, with all but one radiating from downtown Augusta and stopping at county boundaries. Aiken County’s Best Friend Express operates five routes that stop every two hours at North Augusta and Aiken locations.
For the metro area, which includes four Georgia and two South Carolina counties, bus systems are less likely to deliver workers to jobs because 48.1 percent of 248,471 available jobs are outside city limits, according to the study.
Geraldine Wilson, the president of the Augusta Bus Riders Association, said she was not surprised by the findings and listed several manufacturers that are not on Augusta’s bus routes.
City Transit Planner Juriah Lewis, who helps develop transportation plans for the entire metro area and writes transportation grant applications, admits city bus routes don’t extend to the area’s largest employers: Fort Gordon, Plant Vogtle and Savannah River Site.
The status of Augusta’s contract with Mobility Transit Services LLC, the firm it hired Aug. 1 to manage the bus service, hasn’t helped improve transit access, he said.
“I haven’t seen what they can offer, because they’ve been too busy defending themselves,” Lewis said.
Augusta warned Mobility earlier this year that the firm needed to correct several staffing, vendor payment and other issues or risk losing the city contract. Mobility is attempting to correct the issues, but that leaves little room now for improving or expanding access to the service, Lewis said.
Mobility is the first private firm to run the service since the city purchased it decades ago. Whether it remains on board, one adjustment next year promises change for the bus service.
When federally funded studies are complete, the city will move its transit headquarters to a new shared 100-acre site with Richmond County Board of Education school buses, re-orienting the entire city service to a location several miles south of downtown and likely to drive route changes.
Another potential for change is the transportation sales tax going to voters July 31. If approved, it promises about $8 million dollars over 10 years for transit operations, which currently cost about $5 million annually.
The transit system stays abreast of job developments in Augusta and isn’t above tweaking routes to entice new industries. Lewis recalled making adjustments to routes to ensure riders have access to Automatic Data Processing and Sitel a year or more before those businesses arrived.
Commissioner Jerry Brigham, an advocate for privately run public transit, said he helped encourage the reconfiguration of one route to allow access to a new Social Security Administration office near the Augusta Exchange shopping center and to reach the University of Phoenix.