County officials are planning to increase the cost for public transit services in Columbia County.
Columbia County Public Transit driver Ricky Littleton hands a receipt to passenger Wayne Pardue, of Martinez. Pardue rides to work every day. The county is considering a rate increase for transit.
Photo by J. Scott Trubey
The county has been considering raising fares each way by 50 cents for senior citizens and $1 for riders younger than 60. Fares for children 12 and younger would remain the same.
That means one-way trips for seniors would cost $2.50 and round trips would cost $5. For riders 13 to 59, one-way trips would cost $4 and round trips would be $8.
The rate hike could take effect as early as Nov. 1.
Currently, residents 60 and older pay $2 each way for the door-to-door shuttle service, according to the public transit service's official Web page. Residents younger than 60 pay $3 each way, and children 12 and younger are $1 each way.
There has not been a rate increase in four years, said Pam Tucker, the county's director of emergency services, the department that oversees public transit. The rate for seniors has not increased in eight years, she said.
In that time, fuel costs have skyrocketed, the number of riders has increased and the county must now pass the extra cost on to customers, Tucker said.
"We don't want to reduce services," Tucker said.
Transit driver Ricky Littleton said routes are consolidated on slower days to conserve fuel, but that makes it harder to serve customers.
Public Transit's three drivers put about 225 miles per vehicle per day on the system's fleet of three vans, said Jeff Asmann, the manager of public transit and the Columbia County Senior Center.
Currently, the transit system averages about 1,800 passenger trips per month, a 20 percent increase since the most recent rate increase in August 2001, Tucker said.
The Department of Transportation requires the county to log at least 500 passenger trips per month to keep rural transit system grant dollars, Asmann said.
The system receives about $86,000 in state grants each year, he said.
Since 40 percent of the system's riders are seniors, Tucker said, her department wanted to spare them a steeper rate hike. She said the proposal is the best the department can do to minimize the impact to all riders.
The county's public transit system offers site-to-site transportation from a customer's residence to most anywhere they would like to go in Columbia or Richmond counties, Tucker said. However, the system does not cross over Gordon Highway into southern Richmond County.
"Most of our trips are made down to medical center appointments and shopping in Augusta, ," she said. "(The trips are) not within Columbia County, they are from Columbia County into the Augusta area, so it is quite a drive."
Littleton said most of his regular riders take transit to work.
With the rate increase, the county expects to generate $8,000 in additional revenue, Tucker said.
The proposed rate increase was presented to commission Chairman Steve Brown and Vice Chairman Tommy Mercer, at the Community and Emergency Services Committee meeting on Sept. 26. The committee voted to send the proposal to the full board of commissioners' Tuesday debate agenda.
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