Augusta's bus service could shrink if another revenue source other than its fare box isn't found, Mayor Deke Copenhaver said at a public forum Friday.
"It is going to continually lose money, as does every other public transit system in the nation, unless we find another funding source," he said. Alternative funding could come from a special transportation tax, Mayor Copenhaver said.
Augusta Public Transit is desperate for new funding because a city budget crunch might clamp down on the tax money that, historically, has kept the system out of the red. Like nearly all transit systems, Augusta's fare box doesn't cover operating expenses.
The issue has led to proposed service cuts, including the elimination of Saturday routes.
Dozens of residents urged the mayor not to cut service Friday afternoon, even volunteering to shoulder a fare increase. Many, who took to the podium in wheelchairs or who needed assistance getting there because of an eyesight disability, told him they were solely dependent on the buses for their transportation needs.
When asked if their ridership would continue amid an increase in fares, most of the residents present responded positively by raising their hands.
"For a lot of us, the transit system is a lifeline," said Larry Paschal, a 52-year-old Augusta Tech student who needs the bus to get to classes.
Mayor Copenhaver promised to push for state legislation that could allow Augusta voters to approve a transportation sales tax. He also suggested capping the motel/hotel tax money that the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority receives each year to cover its deficit and use the overage to help pay for transit.
Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Augusta commissioners will have to decide what cuts are actually implemented in the city's budget.