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Summer launch possible for Statesboro city buses
CARES Act all but eliminates city’s first-year cost; fares yet to be set, but first 6 months likely free
Statesboro city transit bus
This image, from designs created for the city by Davis Marketing Company, shows a composite of logo and graphic-wrap elements preferred by council members and the mayor for the city buses, but it is not necessarily the final design. An agreement pending among the Bulloch County government and the four cities within the county for a five-year extension of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax allocates $3 million for Statesboro’s small-bus public transit system.

 The small-bus public transit service the city of Statesboro has been planning in cooperation with the Coastal Regional Commission has taken shape, awaiting some City Council decisions and a possibly pandemic-delayed delivery of buses.

Officials hope those things will come together in time to launch the system in July or August.

"We're hoping for this summer, but it might be fall before we actually have buses," City Manager Charles Penny said Friday.

Thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act of 2020, the federal and state governments will cover the bus system’s first-year capital and operating costs, projected at $530,700, almost free-of-charge to Statesboro, city officials say. Before the CARES Act eliminated the required local match for federal transportation system grants for one year, the city government would have been required to pay 50% of net operating costs and 20% of capital costs, for an estimated first-year local taxpayer expense of $201,090.

But during this year, those expenses are covered, including the purchase of four buses that are expected to last up to five years.

"It's a good thing for us because it allows to implement the system; it allows us to grow our ridership; and then in the (fiscal year) 2023 budget we need to be prepared to fund probably in the neighborhood of $160,000 to $180,000,” Penny said.

That predicted range of annual costs to the city has been reduced from a prediction of $250,000 to $300,000 two years ago. Initially, the city government looked to obtain federal and state grants for the system on its own.

But Statesboro officials soon learned that the rural transportation grants were available only in cooperation with the Coastal Regional Commission, since it was already the recipient for the area.  Based in Darien, the CRC operates a 10-county bus service called Coastal Coaches in cooperation with the county governments, including Bulloch’s.

Unlike Coastal Coaches, an on-demand service that has no set routes and  requires that riders schedule pickup times and locations in advance, Statesboro Area Transit will have established routes but with an added “flex route” option.

"Because of the way we had to implement it because of the CRC having this area, it really worked out to our advantage financially because the state provided some funding that helped reduce that cost,” Penny said.

 

Four little buses

While the city will own the buses – each with room for 10 passengers – the CRC will operate them and employ the drivers. Each bus will have a lift and two seats that can be folded down to make spaces for passengers in wheelchairs.

The buses will run from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday on two routes, one roughly north-south and the other roughly east-west, crossing at a downtown transfer center. But the flex-route feature will allow them to pick up passengers up to 3/4 mile from the regular route who make a request at least 24 hours ahead by phone, the CRC website or a new scheduling app.

During a work session Tuesday, City Council and Mayor Jonathan McCollar were shown a proposed schedule of fares, as well as further possibilities for a color graphic “wrap” that will make the buses distinctively Statesboro’s.

Statesboro city transit bus route
This map shows the general direction of the two routes for Statesboro's planned city bus service, to be operated by the Coastal Regional Commission. A flex-route option will also be available to pick up and return people to places in town within 3/4-mile of the route with a day's notice. (SPECIAL)

What’s fare?

As city officials heard during the initial feasibility study, rider fares usually cover only a portion of a city bus system’s operating cost. The grant program only requires that fares cover at least 10%, according to Statesboro’s implementation plan.

The proposed basic fare is $1 per one-way ride for passengers ages 18-59. A reduced fare of 50 cents would be available to seniors age 60 and up, persons with disabilities, youth ages 6-17 and students up to age 22 with a valid student ID. Adult-accompanied children age 5 years and younger would ride free, limited to three children per paying adult.

Monthly passes would also be available, for $30 to passengers 18-59 and for $15 to those qualifying for the senior, disability, youth or student discounts.

But the city staff will probably propose making ridership free to everyone for the first six months of operation to encourage ridership, Penny told the council. The fare schedule is awaiting a formal council decision.

 

Wrapping it up

Without the graphic wrap to be added after the buses after delivery, they would be solid white. The logo and wrap design options the city’s elected officials saw Tuesday were the third set presented by Davis Marketing Company as a subcontractor to Action Signs.

The mayor and council members who spoke up indicated preferences for a particular wrap covering more than half of each bus. But they preferred the three-letter logo from a different design and informally agreed on the name “Statesboro Area Transit” and the acronym “SAT,” over the alternative “Statesboro Transportation System” and “STS.”

So, another revised design is to be presented to the elected officials. This pending decision is an important one, according to Kiara Ahmed, civil engineer in the city’s Public Works and Engineering Division.

“That’s actually going to pave the way for a lot because we need to start advertising, we need to be able to wrap the bus as soon as we get it, and that way we can get it out quicker to start the service, and the monthly  passes, because I’m sure they’ll want that logo on there,” she said.

Ahmed, who has led the city’s work in planning the transit system, also hopes to schedule an open-house event to inform the public of the plans as those decisions are made.

 

Buses on order

But choosing a wrap won’t necessarily speed the preparation of the buses. They have been on order since last year through the Georgia Department of Transportation, official recipient of the federal grant, with the Coastal Regional Commission as “subrecipient.”

"The biggest thing we're waiting on right now is the actual vehicles,” CRC Mobility Manager David Dantzler told the Statesboro Herald. “There is a tremendous backlog on the availability of vehicles right now.”

The last predicted delivery time he had heard from the Georgia DOT was “sometime after” July 1.

"That's the big thing, we can't run the service with not buses, but that has given us some more time to really look at routes and stops,” Dantzler said. “We’re working with the city staff on that.”

In fact, he and Ahmed drove the routes Monday to arrive at decisions on where the regular stops will be. This could be adjusted when the service gets up and running, they said.

 

Uncovered costs

Incidentally, any shelters or other equipment for bus stops will be an expense not covered by the federal and state grants. These and the graphic wrap will be costs to the city. But after previously funding the transit study and implementation plan, the city still has about $350,000 of the $450,000 earmarked for launching the Statesboro transit system in the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum approved by Bulloch County voters in 2018.

The city will keep any bus stop equipment to a minimum until after the system is running and ridership patterns can be seen, Ahmed said.

This city bus service will be a novelty not only for Statesboro, but for the CRC, which despite its 10-county Coastal Coaches reach, is not involved in operating any other city-specific system or any bus service with regular routes.

"It's going to be interesting,” Dantzler said. “It's going to be a new route type for us, so it's going to be a learning process for us, but it's going to be good, I think."

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