Statesboro City Council on Tuesday authorized spending $68,793 for a study of the feasibility of creating a public transit system.
Although the money will come now from the city’s general fund, it is to be repaid from the $450,000 earmarked for Statesboro public transit from the new five-year, countywide Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. That will leave a little more than $380,000 from the T-SPLOST for actual investment in the transit system. But one purpose of the study will be to determine what kind of bus, van or other transit system Statesboro can support.
The council unanimously approved hiring Connetics Transportation Group to do the research, but not before some council members questioned spending a substantial portion of the transit funds on a study. That prompted Mayor Jonathan McCollar to own the quest for public transportation as a “mayoral initiative” with a broad purpose.
“The vision for the public transportation is to spur the economy,” McCollar said. “This is an economic project. That's why we're doing it, and what we know is in communities where you have people moving, you see that economies tend to thrive, and so that's what we're looking at. It's just not to pick up a group of people and take them to a specific job."
He echoed a statement he has made before, suggesting that public transit will promote both shopping and employment.
“There's two reasons that people use public transportation,” McCollar said. “They get on that public transportation to go make money, or either they use that public transportation to go spend money.”
Some council members also expressed concern that after the city staff issued a request for proposals, Connetics, or CTG, was the only company that submitted an offer.
City Central Services Director Darren Prather reported that the request was sent to 15 firms or agencies, and that he and an assistant followed up with multiple phone calls and emails in an attempt to obtain more bidders. But the construction economy is seeing increased demand.
“We feel like the limited response was due to, like everything else, construction going on and development,” Prather said. They're at a premium, just like contractors. … We did try extensively to get other people"
District 2 Councilman Sam Lee Jones noted that previously, when only one bid was received to remove a house on South Main Street near the police headquarters, city officials declined the bid, unopened.
"Because of that, that bid was not opened and was returned,” Jones said. “We’ve got one bid now."
But a city policy allows a sole bid if staff members realize it will be the only one prior to the deadline and the city manager approves, Prather noted.
CTG, which has an office in Atlanta and others across the country, gave a 90-minute to two-hour professional presentation for Statesboro city staff members, who were convinced the company can do what the study requires, he said.
“If it wouldn't have been up to our expectations, we would have recommended not taking them as well,” City Manager Randy Wetmore told the council.
CTG’s initial fee quote was $89,158, which was a larger chunk of the $450,000 than staff members wanted to spend on the study, Prather said. So they negotiated with the company, which cut items for alternative offers of $60,667 and $56,977.
But city employees who reviewed the reduced proposals thought they eliminated too much in the area of public participation and stakeholder input. So the $68,793 alternate they recommended was an intermediate option that restores some of the hours CTG is expected to spend conducting stakeholder interviews, focus groups and public open-house events. It also adds a survey.
Other promised study elements include an analysis of the demand for public transit, comparison to peer cities, examination of alternatives, ridership forecasts, cost projections, identification of funding sources and a five-year financial plan.
GS was asked
When the council first authorized a request for proposals, Jones said he wanted Georgia Southern University and the local colleges to be included. He asked Tuesday if that had been done.
Prather had sent a request to Georgia Southern and talked to an official in the university’s Center for Business Analytics and Economic Research.
However, the university usually teams up with another organization for such research and offered to assist but not do the study, Prather said.
At the newspaper’s request, he provided a list of all 15 organizations sent requests for proposals. They ranged alphabetically from AECOM to Walker Consultants and included regional firms Hussey Gay Bell and Ecological Planning Group as well as national companies such as UrbanTrans.
Jones suggested that the city might skip the study and invest in some vehicles.
"I realize $68,000 doesn't appear to be much money,” he said. “However, $68,000 probably can buy a couple of vans and support new work force that's about to come on board. Let them take those vans and take people to work, you know, as opposed to spending $68,000 on a feasibility study.”
Wetmore said that even with this more would be involved, such as insurance, a maintenance budget and making sure that drivers are available. Jones said he was suggesting providing the vans for private enterprise to operate under contract.
District 5 Councilman Derek Duke said he was also concerned about the single bidder and the amount being spent before T-SPLOST funds begin to arrive. He expressed support for the idea of mass transit, but with the caution that the city will probably end up subsidizing it.
"The mayor very well vocalized it,” Duke said. We know we need some form of transportation around the city, but I cite the fact that most of us just from general knowledge realize that public transportation is not a money-maker for a community. It is normally at a loss.”
The study should help the city figure out, “what’s the need, where’s that need at in the city … what kind of vehicles are necessary to use, and then figure out if there will be enough revenue that limits the amount of subsidy,” Wetmore said.
District 1 Councilman Phil Boyum made the motion to have CTG do the study at the negotiated price, District 4 Councilman John Riggs seconded, and the voice vote was 5-0.
The study is expected to take about six months, Prather said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.