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
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As It Is 12/20/08 - 04:53 am
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In reality, based on who is

In reality, based on who is riding the busses now, it would be less expensive for us as tax payers to just buy all of the standard riders a good used car. They can then spend their money on gas and go wherever they please when they please. Although this does sound ridiculous, even to me as I write it, I bet it actually would end up being less expensive for us than the current transportation system.

palomino9
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palomino9 12/20/08 - 06:57 am
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the city can pay thousands

the city can pay thousands for the commissioners to fill their tanks, but can't pay for hardworking people to have a means of transportation to work. imagine that

palomino9
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palomino9 12/20/08 - 06:58 am
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coalminer has too much time

coalminer has too much time on his hands to know the fares of neighboring city's bus service, get a job dude

mad tax payer
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mad tax payer 12/20/08 - 08:14 am
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the answere to both questions

the answere to both questions by no longer amazed is abig H-NO. the drivers has no idea how much money people put in the fare box. 95% of them do not work. people are still using fake hotel receipts. take back the $6,500.00 raise fred russell gave the cashiers. they make more than transit drivers

SMHwhatamessthisis
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SMHwhatamessthisis 12/20/08 - 08:49 am
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why are these fools able to

why are these fools able to drive cop cars home?there driving school buses home stop all this madness it's just crooket all the way around.

JohnQPublic
5
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JohnQPublic 12/20/08 - 09:21 am
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palomino...I work full time;

palomino...I work full time; home for the holidays right now. I didn't just "know" the fares. I looked it up on the internet, then cut and paste! What a concept! We need to have a comparison of other metropolitan areas in order to make informed decisions rather than just guessing how much the fares should be. Dudette here.

JohnQPublic
5
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JohnQPublic 12/20/08 - 09:25 am
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SMH, how old are you? You

SMH, how old are you? You seriously can't type or spell, or use proper English.

tylenol
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tylenol 12/20/08 - 09:36 am
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I have lived in Augusta all

I have lived in Augusta all of my life, except for two years..Apt is not where it started..The problem is Georgia,with this good ole boy mentality. Atlanta has places there, where the bus do not run; because of the same idiotic thinking of the wrong people riding the buses. NY,OH,NJ, etc.. They have a different mentality. They look at money and not where it come from either. They want people to ride and do not care what type, because money is money. It does not not spend any different way by whose hands it is coming from.This a Georgia and Augusta problem. The rich want to stay rich and the poor stay poorer. People here do not want a come up.I do not know what the fear is .Bad comes in all shapes and sizes, and in all nationalities, and in the rich and the poor. You have politics and people in government stealing money as well as the poor and middle class. There have been murderers that were upper class, and middle class the poor are not the only ones that kill or steal or do wrong. I am a shame of the upper class expressing there feeling only on the money. God forbid anything happen to you all jobs are money coming in. You all would probably commit suicide.

tylenol
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tylenol 12/20/08 - 09:48 am
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If Heyward would think with

If Heyward would think with his heart instead of his pocket...The transit system will be awesome...I am one of the people here that keeps a car. I have always had a car. I am thinking of the less fortunate, that can not afford what I have. Everyone wants to talk about taxes...you are going to pay them no matter what. So why not put it to good use and let everyone share the wealth. you can not take this money with you to your grave, you can; but who knows if you can spend it where you are going. I am glad we have some one in the President seat that think of everyone not just the rich or the poor.

owensjef2
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owensjef2 12/20/08 - 11:54 am
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NO WAY!! Expanding the bus

NO WAY!! Expanding the bus service brings troublemakers. Just look at Regency Mall!
Posted by iletuknow on Fri Dec 19, 2008 6:02 PM
Idiot!!!!!!!!!!!

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