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Study examines bus use, ridership
Survey open until Aug. 31, answers weighted to need
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Public meetings

The Liberty Transit Strategic Plan study will include public meetings. Look for the first to be July 23-24 at the Savannah Tech Liberty Campus, though the time is to be determined.
Find the survey at LibertyTransit.org.

The Hinesville Metropolitan Planning Organization is looking for feedback on the efficiency and use of the Liberty Transit system in a comprehensive study that involves a survey, public meetings and talks with stakeholders.
“The intent of the study, the Liberty Transit Strategic Plan, is to increase the cost-effectiveness of the service and recommend strategies to meet the mobility needs of our community while improving the quality of life, access to jobs and economic development in our area,” transportation planner Rachel Hatcher said.  
The survey will be conducted until Aug. 31 and asks about system use, the reasons and purposes for using the system, service areas and desired changes. It is available online at LibertyTransit.org. Organizers also will distribute surveys through agencies that serve potential riders.
The survey is open to the public, but its target audience is current and prospective riders.
The $100,000 study is funded by a federal grant that provides 80 percent of the cost. The state provides 10-percent match, and the local share is also 10 percent, or $10,000.
It also asks about demographic information — an element that largely contributes to someone’s likelihood of ridership.
Hatcher anticipates responses from detractors, but she said the survey is built in a way that people need to explain why the system does not work for them.
“Is it that you have a vehicle? Because, then, that is very different response than a person who doesn’t have it and doesn’t want it,” she said. “It’s important for us to understand if you are anti-transit and have two cars and a motorcycle. That is a different perspective from someone who is transit-dependent or doesn’t have a license to drive.”
The system currently has four routes within Hinesville, Flemington and Fort Stewart, which are the local governments that fund the system, Hatcher said. Each route has access to Fort Stewart and both area hospitals.
“They are consistently at 2,000 trips per month, and it is growing,” Hatcher said. The ridership peaked in May with 2,313 trips — determined by the number of times a rider boards a bus.
Trips are the standard measure for a National Transit Database, a federal tracking administration, Hatcher added. The study also aims to identify the number of people who use the system, which involves tracking individuals.
“We’re looking at a lot of additional information, such as employment areas, demographic areas, housing areas, and finding population centers that have enough people —frankly, enough rooftops — to support a bus stop in that area,” Hatcher said.
Modifying or expanding routes as well as adding new ones are options, though expansion cannot come without more funding. Within the current funding structure, the system would have to discontinue service areas before adding new ones.
And that funding could come from a controversial element of the July 31 TSPLOST referendum, which includes $18.5 million for Liberty Transit: $9 million for existing operations, $2.5 million for proposed capital, and $7 million for expanded transit operations.
Some Courier readers have used blogs and Sound off to voice opposition to the tax because it would help fund the transit system. Attendees at a TSPLOST town hall meeting on Wednesday also spoke against the system.
“Everyone has been at a point in their life where they could not drive a vehicle, all of us,” she said. “Either you were too young, or at some point you will be too old, or in another area of your life, you may be financially restricted in some way.”
The aging baby boomer population will eventually hit a point where driving is no longer feasible, and the transit system is a way to plan for that time, she said, noting that other system operators say it takes between three and five years to establish consistent ridership.
“Liberty County has traditionally never had public transit options, so it’s very new … it is very common for people to resist something new,” she said. “So it could be perceived as something before its time, but I think the time is coming very quickly.”

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