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Bus system would need local and federal cash
Study for Statesboro considers costs, funding sources
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Operating a city transit system with buses running fixed or flexible routes through Statesboro will require $228,000 to $300,000 in annual local funding – if federal funding pays half the cost – according to the feasibility study by Connetics Transportation Group.

Another alternative would be a “demand response” transit service that would pick up riders only after they call. Its local annual operating cost was projected at $124,000, also after a federal subsidy. But this would be a city replacement or duplication of the demand-response service that Coastal Regional Coaches now provides on contract for Bulloch County, and CTG projects that it would have a much lower ridership than a fixed-route or flex-route bus system.

Dan Nelson, project manager for CTG, summarized the study to Statesboro’s mayor and council at an 8 a.m. open work session Tuesday. The presentation accompanied a printable report about 110 pages long, not counting appendices of survey and interview results.

After the meeting, District 3 Councilman Jeff Yawn noted that the city’s elected officials received a lot of information, which he wants to evaluate before committing to anything.

“It’s certainly something that we want to look into for sure and make sure if it’s something that we need to do for our citizens,” Yawn said. “If there would be enough ridership and participation that it would be of value not only to the individuals but to those outlying businesses that would gain from it, then we want to evaluate it.”

Indirect effects, such as potential business gains from people using the system for shopping and work, need to be explored as much as direct benefits to riders, he said.

 

Four ‘final’ options

Of the four “final” alternatives that CTG presented as possibilities for Statesboro, after considering 11 options for routes, vehicles and schedules, the least expensive overall would be the most costly per rider.  

The demand-response alternative, with two vans or small buses holding five to eight passengers each, could be started with about a $370,000 investment in equipment, CTG estimated. But its ridership is projected at just 7,100 passenger rides a year, making the equipment cost, stretched over 10 years, $5.21 per rider. Meanwhile, projected annual operations and maintenance expenses of $262,200 would amount to a further $34.93 per ride, CTG calculated.

So that’s about $40 per ride for the on-demand service. The costs noted here wouldn’t actually be paid by the riders, who would pay a one-way fare of $1, possibly a discounted 50-cent fare or, in some of the options, $2 for on-demand paratransit. Most of the per-ride cost would be borne by the city and the federal government.

CTG projected much higher ridership for the other three options, any of which would have two approximately 16-passenger buses – which could vary from 15 to 19 seats – running mapped routes. The two fixed-route options would also require a third vehicle to provide paratransit service, transporting people who live within three-fourths of a mile of the route in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

 

Fixed routes

For the “orange route” plan using the 16-passenger buses to run a 12.4-mile loop to Statesboro’s most popular destinations, from downtown to the hospital area to the mall and Walmart area and by some neighborhoods, the projected ridership is 77,400 annual passenger trips.

With the two buses, a paratransit van and items such as signs and benches for bus stops, the capital cost is projected at $714,000 and the annual operating cost at $664,000. But the per-ride operating cost would be $7.75 and the per-ride capital cost just 92 cents.

The other fixed-route option would not form a loop, but would have two linear routes, the “red” and “blue” routes, crossing in downtown Statesboro, where exchanges would be necessary for some destinations.

Again with two approximately 16-passenger buses plus one smaller paratransit vehicle, this has a projected capital cost of $718,750 and an annual operating cost of $658,800. But by getting people to popular destinations fastest, it could have the highest ridership, 96,000 passenger trips a year, reducing per-ride costs to 75 cents for equipment and $6.04 for operations and maintenance, in CTG’s estimation.

 

Flex route

The fourth option uses the “red” and “blue” crossing routes, but in a flex-route plan. The two 16-passenger buses would deviate from the routes between scheduled stops to pick up and drop off passengers.

This eliminates the need for the smaller paratransit vehicle, because the main buses can then serve ADA passengers up to three-fourths mile from the main route, Nelson explained. All of the buses in all of the plans would have wheelchair lifts.

The projected capital equipment cost for this flex-route plan is $548,750, and its projected annual operating cost is $502,200.

 

Not by fares alone

Fares paid by riders would be part of the equation, but only a small part, according to CTG.

“None of these options generates a ton of fare revenue, and that’s to be expected,” Nelson said. “No transit agency in the country covers its costs (from fares). Usually you’d be in a good ballpark if you were covering 10, 15, maybe 20 percent of your costs.”

The consulting firm figured the fare revenues at $14,200 for the demand-response plan, $64,050 for the orange fixed route, $78,625 for the red and blue fixed route or $45,375 for the flex route plan.

 

Federal subsidies

Federal Transit Administration funds could pay 80 percent of capital costs to start the service, and a state grant may pay half of the remaining 20 percent, Nelson said.

For qualifying rural transit systems, federal funding can also pay 50 percent of continuing annual operating costs.

By CTG’s projections, the estimated fares and federal funding would leave the city to pay $124,000 a year to operate the demand-response system, $300,025 or $290,088 for one of the fixed-route systems, or $228,413 for the flex-route system.

All of the basic plans were proposed as operating 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, with weekend service a future consideration. The study suggests possibilities for the city to operate the service or contract it out.

How the city transit system would interact with the limited bus service that Georgia Southern University provides, through a contractor, for its students is also under discussion.

Right now, the only funding the city has for public transit is $450,000 earmarked from the five-year, countywide Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and almost $69,000 has been spent on the study.

Preparing a transit system to launch would take about two years, Nelson said.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.