Riders reject public transit plan

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After two hours of being berated, Augusta Public Transit Director Heyward Johnson said there's a good chance the 215 people who turned out at a public hearing Thursday put the brakes on his plan to raise bus fares and cut Saturday service.

There hasn't been a rate increase since 2001, and that's because whenever he proposes one, residents speak out and Augusta Commissioners reject it.

"It can have an effect on them as to how they vote," Mr. Johnson said.

With commissioners Jerry Brigham, J.R. Hatney and Alvin Mason listening, about a quarter of the people in attendance at the May Park Community Center gym took to the microphone and blasted what they said is already paltry bus service for a city Augusta's size. They said the proposed changes would punish the working poor, the disabled and people on fixed incomes during the depths of a national recession.

Catherine Anderson held up her monthly pass card, which under the plan would go from $50 to $55.

"The bus doesn't run on holidays, it doesn't run on Sundays," she said. "So it's a rip-off already."

Many of those who spoke said that without Saturday service they won't be able to get to work and could lose their jobs.

"If you cut the Saturday service off, you're cutting off my livelihood," Lisa Greer said.

Mr. Johnson proposes to raise fares from $1 to $1.50 and eliminate transfers, meaning riders would have to pay $1.50 every time they switch buses. He said he's trying to compensate for $1.5 million being cut from next year's budget.

Without the changes, the $1.5 million hole will have to be plugged some other way, City Administrator Fred Russell said. Under state law, special-purpose penny sales tax funds can be used to buy more buses, but not to staff or fuel them, he said. Augusta Public Transit loses an estimated $4 million per year.

Thursday's meeting was required by federal law, with speakers allowed to vent, but without officials answering questions. Mr. Johnson said comments would be compiled by a stenographer and given to commissioners.

The rate increases would raise fares further for disabled riders, who can't purchase monthly passes. Deborah Ivins, disabled from two car wrecks and speaking while sitting in a motorized scooter, said she currently pays $5.40 for a round trip to her job at Medical College of Georgia, and under the proposed plan she would pay $12.

She can't go to church because there's no Sunday service, and if Saturday routes are cut, she won't be able to go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy because she works until 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and most bus routes end around 7 p.m., she said.

"What I'm saying is, where's the planning in this?" Ms. Ivins said. "I would strongly urge you to put the priority on growing the system instead of cutting it."

Several speakers suggested public transit create a citizens advisory board to come up with ways to improve the system.

"I think if you provide a better service, you will have more ridership," said Elizabeth Bennett, who recently moved to Augusta from Philadelphia.

Mr. Hatney told the crowd that public transit's 2009 budget hasn't been decided yet, and he said he'll oppose Mr. Johnson's plan.

"There's no way," he said, "with this cry that I've heard and the pain I'm feeling, that I could support any of this."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

PROPOSED BUS CHANGES

Augusta Public Transit Director Heyward Johnson is proposing the following changes to make up for a $1.5 million budget cut next year:


- Elimination of Saturday service


- Increase fares from $1 to $1.50


- Elimination of transfers


- Increase monthly passes from $50 to $55


- Increase various fares for disabled riders from $2 to $3, $2.70 to $6 and $4.70 to $9.

Source: Augusta Public Transit

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As It Is
2
Points
As It Is 12/19/08 - 02:43 am
0
0
Reject the plan....ride with

Reject the plan....ride with a friend, get a taxi, walk, ride a bike, etc. The bus service already cost tax payers who don't use it a lot of money. $1.50 for a ride in Augusta or $55.00 per month to ride the bus anytime is very inexpensive. Yes, the economy is tough but why should those who pay taxes have to pay more taxes to provide for unrequired services for others who aren't willing to do their part by pulling $1.50 out of their pocket. I do however agree that service should be offered on Saturday for those who work. As for getting to church, any good church would ensure that you had a ride or someone would pick you up.

PTHS225
1
Points
PTHS225 12/19/08 - 03:25 am
0
0
As It Is - Well stated as

As It Is - Well stated as usual. I'd like to be able to keep my transportation costs at $55/mo. I think your last sentence is especially true. Nice job.

Jim-bob
1
Points
Jim-bob 12/19/08 - 05:34 am
0
0
"It can have an effect on

"It can have an effect on them as to how they vote," Mr. Johnson said.

And I will remember this next election.

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 12/19/08 - 06:01 am
0
0
This is certainly a

This is certainly a perspective issue. Over and above what the riders pay, the tax payer kicks in an additional $4milion each year. The riders want better service, but don't want to pay increased rates, so that means the taxpayer would foot the bill for more service. For me, the answer was to move out of the city. Too many entitlement taxes for the city to handle economically. Necessary city wide improvements can't be afforded. Augusta's over investment in subsidy and entitlement is VERY obvious during difficult economic times. We need a change we can believe in and it's not more entitlement.

pointstoponder
609
Points
pointstoponder 12/19/08 - 06:02 am
0
0
Did anyone have the decency

Did anyone have the decency to thank those who subsidize their transportation?

mad tax payer
0
Points
mad tax payer 12/19/08 - 06:06 am
0
0
heyward johnson needs to go.

heyward johnson needs to go. if the people are to cheap to pay the increase shut the whole transit system down and let them walk. how can a few hundred people tell a city this size what they can or can't do it is about time our leaders take a stand. tax payers does not need to support this system

n.a.s.c.blessed
0
Points
n.a.s.c.blessed 12/19/08 - 06:35 am
0
0
Thankfully, I recently moved

Thankfully, I recently moved from Richmond County to N.A.. I made my decision based on several factors. One of the main reason was the lack of backbone by the commissioners. The burden to "help" the needy, far outweighed the benefits my family received for the taxes I paid. 4 million dollars for the benefit of a few individual is a waste.

JimCox
7
Points
JimCox 12/19/08 - 06:58 am
0
0
Hatney heard the cry and felt

Hatney heard the cry and felt the pain of these 215 people? He wants to be the next Mayor Pro Tem, yet it seems easy for him to ignore the pain that tens of thousands of overburdened tax payers of Richmond County are feeling and he appears deaf to their cries for responsible leadership.

jackfruitpaper833
41
Points
jackfruitpaper833 12/19/08 - 07:08 am
0
0
Augusta Transit haven't been

Augusta Transit haven't been right since the 60s and 70s, as big as this city is the service is HORRIBLE, they should not cut saturday service, I do agree with increasing the fare. I remember when on Sunday if you wanted to ride the bus to anywhere downtown or in the county, the Fort Gordon Bus was the one to catch. For those of us who are fortunate to have a car and don't have to lean on riding the bus as our sole transportation thank God you are blessed. Park your car one day and ride the bus and experience it, the transit system is Augusta is not pretty at all. *Shrugs*

HYPOCRITES 08
7
Points
HYPOCRITES 08 12/19/08 - 07:37 am
0
0
What some of you are missing

What some of you are missing is that the majority of these people who are complaining are WORKERS. If the workers cannot get to work then they lose their jobs and companies fold. These same WORKERS also pay taxes. Maybe not as much as you and I but none the less they pay. It's not about 250 people trying to tell anyone what to do. It's about 250 people exercising their rights to be heard. I know to some of you because they are low income, you really do not give a damn but that is your problem not their. Hopefully a solution that will assist both can be worked out.

godogs
0
Points
godogs 12/19/08 - 08:01 am
0
0
hypocrites 08 they just might

hypocrites 08 they just might not pay taxes. based on their income and withholding status they just might not contribute to the tax base. i do payroll for the gov't. the only thing they may contribute to is the social security and medicare tax (which they will beneift from maybe) but other than that they probably pay nothing out of their checks. my health insurance premiums went up. nothing else in my pay check changed other than that and so this month i brought home $25.00 less than i did last month. what can i do aobut it nothing but pay it if i want coverage. these people need to pay the additional cost if they want to ride the bus. do with a little less somewhere else, i will have to. life is not free. i sure wish it only cost me $55.00 a month in transportation cost. i would love for a bus to take me from s.c. to augusta to work everyday. i could drink my coffee, read the paper and chill out on the way and avoid the idiots on bobby jones every day. i say expand the service inito north augusta and i will gladly pay the higher fairs and ride to work in augusta.

draksig
167
Points
draksig 12/19/08 - 08:14 am
0
0
If you ran a business and

If you ran a business and business was slow, you were loosing money, would you raise your prices while reducing your services or available products? Of course not, you would drive away business, not attract more. Why should bus service be any different? You need to offer better service for a better price to atract customers. Besides, most transit systems nationwide loose money, they are a service from the city to the people.

hey
0
Points
hey 12/19/08 - 08:18 am
0
0
Here is the new plan: I will

Here is the new plan: I will pay for someone's monthly bus ticket and they can pay for my gasoline each month.

SargentMidTown
8
Points
SargentMidTown 12/19/08 - 09:00 am
0
0
Taking the bus would still be

Taking the bus would still be cheaper than owning an auto. Of course those who can walk should be getting cardiovascular exercise anyway so that don't incure taxpayers more health care cost.

justthefacts
25063
Points
justthefacts 12/19/08 - 09:03 am
0
0
Tough issue, but I am with

Tough issue, but I am with HYPO on this one. Most of the people riding the bus are doing so in order to work. They are already struggling or they would have purchased a car. There is plenty of waste in gov't. The answer is to eliminate that waste in order to fund things that are needed. As someone said earlier, no public transportation is profitable. You should read up on MARTA in ATL.

rufus
2
Points
rufus 12/19/08 - 09:04 am
0
0
I'm all full of the dam

I'm all full of the dam Christmas spirit so I'm going just leave it at that

thisreallysucks
0
Points
thisreallysucks 12/19/08 - 09:18 am
0
0
The transit system doesn't

The transit system doesn't lose money...we make up the costs in less public services elsewhere until property taxes are raised! My property taxes went up much more than $60/year to cover overall government losses. Why shouldn't the riders share the burden with 23 cent a day increase for a service they use.

justthefacts
25063
Points
justthefacts 12/19/08 - 09:21 am
0
0
reallysucks, I don't want

reallysucks, I don't want your taxes raised either. Cutting waste is the key. Unfortunately, politicians don't have the gonads to do it.

Brad Owens
4906
Points
Brad Owens 12/19/08 - 09:31 am
0
0
Good, reliable, safe, and

Good, reliable, safe, and cheap public transport is part of any growing and progressive city. It helps raise the quality of life and is good for the enviroment if it reduces the number of cars on the road. We are a long way off from that, but we don't need to be cutting this service either. I have know Mr. Johnson since he was my commanding officer in the 382nd M*A*S*H* USAR 17 years ago. He is a good man and does the best he can do with what he is given. I say ask Rep Barrow for an earmark as a stop gap measure and then work on increasing ridership and sponsorship this coming year.

No_Longer_Amazed
5146
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 12/19/08 - 09:34 am
0
0
Have the free rides for

Have the free rides for hotel/motel guests been eliminated?

No_Longer_Amazed
5146
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 12/19/08 - 09:34 am
0
0
Have all the fare boxes been

Have all the fare boxes been repaired?

palomino9
0
Points
palomino9 12/19/08 - 09:35 am
0
0
the city can pay over 40K for

the city can pay over 40K for a company to do research for a plan that will never happen, yet they cannot infuse the money into the sysytem that provides hardworking people transportation to get to work. take away the gas allowances for the commissioners and put it into the public transit system.

KingJames
11
Points
KingJames 12/19/08 - 09:37 am
0
0
Hypo is correct on this

Hypo is correct on this issue. There are lots of people who work, but don't own cars, and need the dependability of bus service. Even people with cars sometime need bus service, as their cars may break down and can't be fixed in time for work the next day. There are lots of cities that market their bus services to people from all walks of life. Maybe Augusta should look into that so that folks will stop thinking that only people with entitlement attitudes ride the bus. Metropolitan areas also merge their transit systems to provide greater service. Maybe they could look into routes that extend into Martinez and Evans. Anything is possible to increase the number of riders without cutting service. Many companies consider a city's transit system (or lack thereof) before they decide to move there. Augusta should be ware of cutting services like this. This is nothing short of cutting the nose to spite the face.

No_Longer_Amazed
5146
Points
No_Longer_Amazed 12/19/08 - 09:38 am
0
0
Did APT get the $350,000 from

Did APT get the $350,000 from the TEE Center? If they did, how is it being spent now the cost of fuel has decreased?

justthefacts
25063
Points
justthefacts 12/19/08 - 09:39 am
0
0
palomino makes a good point.

palomino makes a good point. Waste.

noway
201
Points
noway 12/19/08 - 09:43 am
0
0
Many of you are so selfish.

Many of you are so selfish. Complaining that the people using public transportation don't pay taxes like you? They are WORKING! That's the key. You'd then be complaining that they were on welfare if they lost their job because of no transportation. Yes, $55 is cheaper than your car, but a car is majorly convenient. You go when and where you want to go, how far, etc. Don't even compare the two. You people have no heart for those less fortunate than you. It's supposed to be about community, not ME ME ME. The city needs to improve the transportation instead of doing the same, rotten thing. There needs to be improvement on both sides.

Tired of the BS
0
Points
Tired of the BS 12/19/08 - 10:02 am
0
0
they could always get a car

they could always get a car

ITDoc
1
Points
ITDoc 12/19/08 - 10:12 am
0
0
There is plenty of wasteful

There is plenty of wasteful spending in Probate Court... enough to fund at least $60k worth of help...

gvoicinganopinion
0
Points
gvoicinganopinion 12/19/08 - 10:15 am
0
0
Keep the saturday service,

Keep the saturday service, raise the fees but make the system better. I think spreading it out to different locations such as North augusta and Martinez would be a great idea.
Even for the people that have cars- it would be nice so save some of those miles off my car.

gvoicinganopinion
0
Points
gvoicinganopinion 12/19/08 - 10:15 am
0
0
Keep the saturday service,

Keep the saturday service, raise the fees but make the system better. I think spreading it out to different locations such as North augusta and Martinez would be a great idea.
Even for the people that have cars- it would be nice so save some of those miles off my car.

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