What it costs to ride Liberty Transit buses:
• Regular fare: $1 per ride
• Seniors and the disabled: 50 cents per ride
• Monthly pass for unlimited rides: $30
• Monthly pass for seniors, disabled: $15
Area residents put in more than their two cents worth on bus routes and Liberty Transit service Wednesday during a public hearing facilitated by the Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission at the Liberty County Courthouse annex.
One frequent suggestion made was to expand the bus system, reaching side streets that do not have bus stops. Another was to run bus routes to the east end of the county, where large employers like Interstate Paper, Target and Firth Rixson are located. Residents also recommended cutting out the number of buses that run on Fort Stewart.
The bus system began operating in October 2010. There are three bus routes that run through Hinesville, Flemington and Fort Stewart.
Allenhurst resident David Morgan said he would ride the bus if a stop was placed closer to his street. Morgan also criticized the number of buses running on Fort Stewart, buses that, in his opinion, have few riders.
“It must be fair for everybody to ride the bus, not for Fort Stewart alone,” he said.
Morgan said when he recently spoke with District 4 Councilman Keith Jenkins about the transit system, he was told there are those in the community who want to eliminate the bus system due to its cost. Morgan said after spending “so many millions” on Liberty Transit, officials should “make it work.”
“I have been getting a lot of complaints about the bus system,” Jenkins said Thursday. He said every taxpayer should have the opportunity to ride the bus.
“I want to see the bus system circulate through the whole city,” he said. “If we’re going to keep the bus system, we have to get it where it can service the whole city or any city that’s participating in the system. It needs a better schedule.”
Jenkins said there should be stops along more of Hinesville’s major roads, and these stops should be set closer to neighborhoods across the community, “so people don’t have a long way to walk to catch the bus.”
Former soldier Daniel Land, a Baltimore, Md., native who “grew up riding the bus,” said there needs to be more stops placed in residential areas and in front of businesses, like grocery stores and movie theaters, and suggested bus stops be located closer together.
LCPC Executive Director Sonny Timmerman agreed more stops could be added to accommodate potential riders.
“Right now it is more of a main street system,” he said.
“I would gladly pay $3 daily to ride,” Land told Timmerman. “That’s less than what it costs to ride the bus in my hometown of Baltimore.”
Land said he would like to save money on gas by commuting to and from work on the bus. The former soldier works at Chemtall Inc. in Riceboro.
“The money I would save on gas could be used for groceries or going to the movies,” he said.
Timmerman said initial long-range plans propose stretching the system more evenly across the community and installing a route from Hinesville to where major manufacturers are located, such as placing a stop at Tradeport East. Route schedules could coincide with workers’ shift changes, he said. Timmerman added the local system even could be linked with public transit systems in Savannah and South Carolina in the future.
LCPC transportation planner Rachel Hatcher said the current Fort Stewart route will be modified. Hatcher said there has been opposition to having a bus go through a high-ranking officers’ housing area, citing security concerns. Other modifications could include placing a stop in front of Kroger and scheduling the bus route to Liberty County High School at school start and stop times, she said.
Hatcher also told residents 15 bus shelters would be placed at Liberty Transit stops once the LCPC has identified those “solid locations” where the shelters are most needed.
She informed residents a survey could be conducted in the fall to study the feasibility of expanding the bus system. Hatcher said city and LCPC staff and Transit Steering Committee members polled riders and analyzed data regarding ridership and bus system service in mid-June before proposing modifications to existing bus routes.
Before leaving the informal hearing, Morgan wanted to know “who’s in charge” of Liberty Transit.
Timmerman and LCPC planner Debra Attical explained Veolia Transportation has a contract to operate the system, following policy set by the Transit Steering Committee. Committee members include Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas, Flemington Mayor Sandra Martin, Liberty County Commission Chairman John McIver and a Fort Stewart representative. The LCPC serves as the committee’s staff, they said.
“We tell Mr. Theodis Jackson what needs to be done,” Attical said. Jackson is the general manager of Liberty Transit.
Liberty Transit was established by a $1,255,952 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus grant, according to Hinesville city officials. The city pays a portion of the bus system’s operational expenses, Jenkins confirmed.
“I understand the bus system is not going to make the city any money or maybe even cause some losses,” he said. “It’s my feeling if you’re investing in something, you want to know how it’s benefiting (the people).”
Proposed changes to the bus system’s existing routes are available for public review at the Liberty Transit Station, Hinesville City Hall, Flemington City Hall, the Liberty County branch of Live Oak Public Library on Memorial Drive and the LCPC office at 205 E. Court St. in Hinesville. To submit comments online, go to www.libertytransit.org and click on the news tab or call the LCPC at 408-2030. Comments will be accepted through Monday.