Originally created 12/15/00

Residents veto jump in bus fees



A proposal to increase bus fees without increasing transportation services faced a disapproving audience Thursday night.

In the city budget proposal for 2001, Augusta Transit Authority fares might be increased, raising regular rates from 75 cents to $1 and senior citizen, disabled and student rates from 35 cents to 50 cents. In the proposal, ADA paratransit fares also would be raised, from $1.50 to $2.

The additional fee will not be used to improve current services, add buses or change operations, transportation officials said.

The higher fees would cover $150,000 needed for operating costs that previously came out of the general fund.

The plan - which Mayor Bob Young repeatedly said was that of former City Administrator Randy Oliver - was to find a way for the transportation authority to stop relying so heavily on the city's general fund.

The operating fund pays for the authority's utilities, employee salaries and maintenance.

"If you are asking the people who can afford this the least to give up their hard-earned dollar, you should have some kind of concrete proposal to put before them," said Ameer Jamaaluddin, who added that the proposal doesn't include any benefits for the bus patrons.

Augusta's public transportation users currently pay a fee that is standard in Georgia.

In Savannah, the Chatham County Area Transit charges 75 cents for regular fare; senior citizens and disabled patrons pay 37 cents; and paratransit users pay $1.20 one-way. In Macon, the fees are about the same; however, students pay the regular rate after 4:30 p.m., and paratransit travelers pay $2 when their destination is off the regular route.

Atlanta's MARTA system, which includes trains, vans and buses, will increase its regular fee to $1.75 after Jan. 1, up from $1.50.

Two previous attempts, one in 1996 and the other in 1998, to consolidate the cost of the bus fare with the transfer fee were vehemently opposed by the public. Both times, the Augusta Commission agreed with the opposition, said Transit Director Hayward Johnson, who has led the department since 1995.

"The commission has not even discussed these budget increases as a group," Mr. Young said.

And while a federal grant program currently pays 80 percent of the cost for new buses and equipment purchases, there are no such funds for the transit authority's operating cost, Mr. Johnson said.

The 20-plus attendees suggested options to the fee increases. Some said to increase property taxes instead. Others suggested that the city pick up more bus patrons by expanding to communities that the system doesn't serve.

"Test the market," said Louis Ramsey. "Don't just test it in some small area. Test where there are some jobs at. We don't have no buses going out to the paper plant or out to the growing south side of Augusta."

Jhad Bess said the city should rely more on money from the private sector, getting companies to sponsor and advertise on buses.

"If we want to be the second-largest city, then we need to act like it," Mr. Bess said.

Mr. Johnson said the public could discuss the fare increase with the Augusta Commission at the next meeting, at 9 a.m. Saturday on the eighth floor of the municipal building.

Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.