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City seeks mass transit feasibility study
Bus, trolley service offered as options
trolley
An illustration of a Mini-Trolley sold by the company Specialty Vehicles circulated during Tuesday's council meeting as one example of a possible public transit vehicle for Statesboro. This photo, from the company, is of the ADA-accessible version. - photo by Special

The city of Statesboro will seek proposals for a study on the feasibility of a public transit system, such as a bus or trolley service.

With a motion and 3-0 vote Tuesday, City Council authorized City Manager Randy Wetmore and staff to issue a request for proposals from consultants who would do the study. This is the first formal step toward the use of $450,000 earmarked for public transportation in Statesboro from the new countywide T-SPLOST.

“This study would be a comprehensive study,” Wetmore said. “We’re asking to have focus groups for public input, to look at costs, to look at alternative ways that we could provide the services.”

The study is a way to examine the possibilities before Statesboro begins receiving T-SPLOST funds, which probably won’t be until December, or possibly the first quarter of 2019, Wetmore said. The city can pay for the study now and then reimburse itself when the sales tax money arrives, he said.

“It will tell us what a system costs and what system will actually work here,” Wetmore said.

 Part of T-SPLOST

A 58.7 percent majority of Bulloch County voters approved the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in a May 22 referendum. Businesses will begin collecting the added tax Oct. 1, and the state should begin returning revenues to the county and its four municipalities a couple of months later. Then Brooklet, Portal and Register will get “front-loaded” installments of their smaller population-based shares first.

Statesboro is projected to receive $20.64 million to $25.8 million in T-SPLOST revenue over the next five years. Of this, the $450,000 for a public transportation service is the only part earmarked for a specific purpose in the intergovernmental agreement.

Overall, the T-SPLOST is projected to bring in $48 million to a maximum of $60 million, with the county government to receive from $24.6 million to almost $30.8 million.

Similar to Statesboro’s $450,000 for public transit, the county has $450,000 set aside for projects at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Airport. The rest of the T-SPLOST revenue is designated broadly for “road, street and bridge purposes,” a category that can include sidewalks, bicycle paths, drainage structures and equipment such as graders and backhoes.

Besides presenting a range of public transit options and evaluating their costs and benefits, the study is expected to identify “any possible impacts that the transit program may have on minority and low-income populations,” states the draft request for proposals, or RFP. It also calls for forecasts of ridership, financial plans for the top three options and planning toward a comprehensive system, suggesting possibilities for serving residents not reached in the first phases.

Wetmore’s memo to the elected officials suggested a budget of $30,000 to $60,000 for the study.

“In regard to that (RFP), when we look at that, do we have to get a private enterprise or can we ask Georgia Southern University or OTC (Ogeechee Technical College)?” asked Councilman Sam Lee Jones. “They both have logistic programs. We could ask them.”

Wetmore said the city can send the university and college copies of the RFP and they can respond.

“I think that could save the city some money,” Jones said.

“If they can provide what it is we need, that will be fine,” Wetmore said.

 

 

 

We don’t know exactly what that public transportation is going to look like, so we want to keep our options open.
Statesboro Mayor Jonathan McCollar
Trolleys suggested

Earlier in Tuesday evening’s meeting, a local citizen interested in economic and community development projects, Bill Herring, spoke to the council about the same topic. He referred to buses and “trolleys” as possibilities, trolleys in this case being small buses that resemble streetcars but which run on tires, not rails.

While Herring was talking, a flier from the company Specialty Vehicles for its 14-passeger Mini-Trolley was circulated among the City Council audience.

A public transit system would benefit people who “live in city neighborhoods” — such as the West Jones Street, Johnson Street and Luetta Moore and Packinghouse neighborhoods — and don’t have cars, Herring said. Supporters of public transit understood that the city and county need to provide a good road system for citizens with cars but voted for T-SPLOST because it would also benefit those without cars, he said.

“I am asking that the City Council approve a feasibility study to see if all this makes financial sense,” Herring said. “My own study says rider fees will cover the cost of trolley drivers. If there is a subsidy needed, it will be in the range of $25,000 a year for fuel costs. The T-SPLOST capital budget already covers the costs of buying two or three of these trolleys at $100,000 each.”

 

‘An obvious need’

One reason advocates for local public transit are looking at small trolleys is because they do not require a commercial driver’s license as full-size buses do, Mayor Jonathan McCollar said Thursday. He led in having the public transportation funding included in T-SPLOST.

“We don’t know exactly what that public transportation is going to look like, so we want to keep our options open,” McCollar said.

“One of the ideas that have been floated is actually creating a trolley system for Statesboro, and when you look at costs comparatively versus buses, trolleys are much cheaper and with trolleys you don’t have to have a CDL license. Individuals who do not hold those licenses would be able to drive a trolley, if they hold less than 15 passengers,” he said.

The mayor hopes that the study will identify ways to address what he and others believe “to be an obvious need, for transportation for individuals to get to those critical corridors” for health care, education and jobs, he said.

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

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