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City debates shelving Liberty Transit system
Topic of buses raised at session
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What do you say?

The Courier asked workshop attendees about the importance of the annual planning session. Here’s what they said:

Mayor Jim Thomas: “It’s the only time we get to really dig down deep and get those facts (from staff) on issues.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Charles Frasier: “This is about finding ways we can better serve our constituents.”

District 3 Councilman David Anderson: “We had an opportunity for all of us to come together and voice our concerns.”

After discussing possible consequences for shelving Liberty Transit, the Hinesville City Council decided to “ride out” the challenges of funding the bus system for at least another year.

District 2 Councilman Jason Floyd asked if Liberty Transit could temporarily be shut down. Floyd reasoned it could be re-started if voters approve the Transportation Investment Act referendum.

If the regional transportation tax passes, the city would receive money to fund the bus system’s operations, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said. The tax would dedicate an estimated $1.2 billion to transportation and 25 percent to each local government, Thomas explained. In addition, the Georgia Department of Transportation recently offered $375 million in supplements to help expand the list of infrastructure projects — to include Liberty Transit operations — that would be funded by the tax, he said. Thomas serves on the Regional Transportation Roundtable.

A vote on the 1-percent sales tax is scheduled for next July but could be put off until Nov. 2012, Thomas said. If the referendum passes, the city would receive funding for the bus system in January 2013, according to the mayor.

Floyd explained he proposed shelving Liberty Transit because it is a “big-ticket item” that strains city revenues and is not well-utilized, in his opinion. The council member stressed he does not want to dip into contingency funds to pay for the bus system. Usage is nowhere near the 4,000 ridership city officials had expected by this time, Floyd added. 

Hinesville City Manager Billy Edwards informed council members shutting down the bus system for any length of time would cost the city nearly $1 million. Edwards said the start-up for the bus system was paid for by federal money, and the city would have to repay the grant used to buy the buses. He said if the city wanted to discontinue Liberty Transit, they would have one year to sell the buses to another community desiring to start a bus system. Edwards cautioned buses are not as in demand as they were three years ago and they would be difficult to sell.

The city will spend an estimated $600,000 in fiscal year 2012 on Liberty Transit, and expects to pay about the same to fund the system’s operational expenses the following year, according to Edwards.

Edwards said only 118 residents responded to a survey sent out to gauge residents’ use of the system. The survey asked if residents had ever ridden the buses, would consider riding the buses and if routes should be expanded.

Hinesville Public Relations Manager Krystal Britton said the city mailed the survey to all residents and posted the survey on the city’s website.

“We know we’re dealing with a car-based society and it’s hard for us to make that transition here,” Thomas said.
The mayor said it will take time to change the public’s mindset regarding public transportation.

Council members agreed to seek grants to help pay for the bus system and ask Veolia Transportation, contracted to run the system, and the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission to manage the system’s routes more effectively to cut down on operating costs.

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