Crowded bus might lead to change

Taking the bus to work has been somewhat of a gamble for Deborah Butler.

The Augusta woman says she has been late to her job at Hampton Inn at least four times because of overcrowding on the Augusta Public Transit route that runs to Augusta Mall. The extra passengers on route 12 can delay her arrival as much as 20 minutes, she said.

"It's a lot of working people that take this bus," Ms. Butler said while returning from work on route 12 on Saturday. "It would be much better if they had another bus."

Commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether to add an additional route to relieve overcrowding. The 90-day study will determine whether a permanent bus should be added, Augusta Commissioner Jerry Brigham said.

Last year, the commission decided to cut an additional route from downtown to Augusta Mall, Mr. Brigham said.

"We had to eliminate the frequency of the route," he said. "We've got to figure out a way to make public transportation readily accessible, but we have been losing about $2 million a year in public transit."

Depending on what the study reveals, the city could have to dig deeper into its budget for public transportation.

The study would cost about $45,000. Adding the route for the whole year would cost about $250,000, Mr. Brigham said.

Mr. Brigham said he hopes to help transit director Heyward Johnson raise the funds for the transportation needs.

Commissioner Joe Bowles said he believes a 25-cent increase in bus fare could provide enough funds. Riders currently pay $1 for bus fare, Mr. Bowles said.

"We probably have one of the lowest fees for bus service in the state," Mr. Bowles said. "The increase would raise about $300,000 a year. If people want the added routes, we're going to have to find a way to pay for those routes."

Wherever the funds might come from, Mr. Johnson said the overcrowding issue needs to be resolved.

The Augusta Mall route 12 was overcrowded 114 days during the period between February 2007 and January of this year, according to data gathered by the transit system.

Bus driver James Pender said the route is crowded at some point every day. He said he hopes the commission approves the study and the additional bus further down the line.

"They need to do something," Mr. Pender said.

"I mean I've seen people come on here crying because they lost their jobs because they were late. This is a way of life for these people."

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

BY THE NUMBERS

352: Average ridership for route 12 to Augusta Mall each day

114: Number of days route 12 to Augusta Mall was overcrowded between February 2007 and January 2008

$45,000: Cost for mileage, fuel costs and maintenance of the bus during the potential 90-day study