Originally created 11/29/06

Bus riders vent anger



Less is certainly not more for Augusta's bus riders.

During Tuesday's public meeting at the May Park Community Center, Augusta Public Transit officials were treated to an earful of reasons why the Augusta Commission should not cut services and raise bus fares.

Heyward Johnson, the director of public transit, told the crowd that each person's grievances would be recorded and presented to the commissioners at a budget hearing. Riders young and old soon lined up to speak their piece to the officials.

Cosean Valentine, 27, said he was amazed to return home to Augusta after living in Atlanta to see the condition of the city's transit system. Like many of the more than 100 in attendance, Mr. Valentine wanted more funding and service from transit, not less.

"I'm still trying to find out why Augusta is 25 years behind the times when it comes to transit," he said. "Augusta has the potential to be a very potent metropolitan area, but we're crippling it."

Easter Chinn was angry that the commissioners were not in attendance.

"They shouldn't have to hear it from him," she said, pointing to Mr. Johnson. "They should hear it from us."

The law requires that any city organization that receives federal funds, such as transit, must hold a hearing if it proposes any adjustments that affect 20 percent of the ridership.

City Administrator Fred Russell, who arrived about halfway through the meeting, said the final decision on cutbacks would depend on the "political will" of the commissioners. Speaking to the crowd, Mr. Russell said their concerns were heard and would be addressed by the commission.

"I've heard what you said, I know what you need, and I care enough to be here with you," he said.

Still, many were not waiting for the commission and transit officials to handle the issue themselves.

Mario Murray, the director of Augusta Renaissance, a program that mentors youth through music, began collecting names from angry riders before the meeting finished. He hopes to organize the ridership to put further pressure on city leaders. Without cheap public transportation, Mr. Murray worries that the city will witness a "domino effect" in terms of youth gang violence and crime.

"We are going to make a list of people that came and show the commission that these are the faces that they're going to disappoint if they don't do something," he said.

Reach Adam Folk at (706) 823-3339 or adam.folk@augustachronicle.com.

WHAT'S NEXT:

The riders' concerns will be transcribed by a court reporter, and Augusta Public Transit Director Heyward Johnson said he will present them to the Augusta Commission. The process could take 10 days, he said.



PROPOSED CUTS


Earlier this year, City Administrator Fred Russell proposed cutting more than $1 million from transit to ease the city's budget woes. Several ideas have been proposed to shave off funding from the city's bus service, including canceling Saturday service and reducing the number of buses on the streets.


The latest proposal includes:


- Eliminating transfer fees


- Requiring a $1 charge for each bus trip


- Route changes:


Doing away with the one bus each from the Augusta Mall,

East Augusta and Washington Road routes; combining the Turpin Hill and Southgate Plaza routes; and eliminating the downtown shuttle route.