Even though the city of Rome will be losing the $1.4 million per year it is currently receiving from Rome City Schools for providing student transportation, Transit Director Kathy Shealy is hoping a bus fare increase is not on the horizon.
“The consultants might recommend a fare increase, but I’m hoping we can keep the cost down,” Shealy said Wednesday of the Transit Development Plan currently in the works for 2020 and beyond.
“We haven’t had a fare increase for a long time. We’re lower than a lot of other urban systems. Many of our riders are on a fixed income and so it’s sometimes hard for people to afford the fares as they are.”
Adult full fare is $1.25. Seniors, students and those with disabilities pay 60 cents per ride. Those booking paratransit rides that are more curb-to-curb service pay $2.25 each trip and must call in the day before, Shealy said.
Shealy said many times they see more riders within the first two weeks of the month because public assistance checks arrive around the first of each month.
A federal mandate is the driving force behind Rome City Schools having to use school buses for its students, beginning after the holiday break.
Shealy believes the loss of more than 950,000 total student trips per year after 35 years will be made up with increased ridership elsewhere.
“We’re hoping our department will grow with the city and be able to offer new routes like out to Berry College or maybe also Georgia Highlands,” Shealy said.
“We also want to go back to providing more buses more often. Right now there’s an hour wait between buses. When I started out in this position years ago, there were buses every 15 minutes and we had 12 buses a day on the main line. As time went on, we started making cuts and that’s where we ended up where we are today.”
Through the end of September of this year, there were 442,779 student “tripper” rides for RCS, 89,600 main line rides and 15,500 paratransit passenger rides, according to Shealy.
A combination of grants and a federal funding level of 80% should help keep the Rome Transit Department strong, she said. Being able to claim training and education for drivers, as well as preventative maintenance on vehicles for reimbursement from the federal government helps.
The city has hired the Valencia, California, consulting firm Moore & Associates to help figure out where to go from here. The firm has designed a rider survey that can be found online at romegasurvey.com. Those who take part in the survey will be entered to win a drawing for a $25 Visa gift card, Shealy said.
Moore & Associates staff also will be training 8 to 10 temporary workers hired through a local agency to conduct in-person rider surveys on several bus routes Monday through Wednesday, she added.
“We believe these surveys will be very beneficial for shaping the future of the transit system,” Shealy said, adding there also will be citizen meetings conducted before the consultants conclude their study by the end of March 2020.
“We’re making the community aware of what’s going on and allowing them to have input on what they want the transit system to look like. It’s going to be a great thing as we work on our rebranding.”
Rome City Manager Sammy Rich said Wednesday they’d also like to explore the option of partnering with Floyd County to be able to provide bus service outside city limits.
“That would be an excellent opportunity for the community,” Rich said.