Are more people riding the buses? Hinesville District 4 City Council Member Keith Jenkins asked Mayor Jim Thomas during a council meeting last week. Jenkins told the council some of his constituents say they see few passengers riding the new Liberty Transit bus system.
Thomas replied ridership is down somewhat but added low ridership is to be expected when a new system starts up. Ridership will grow, he said.
“We’re trying to change a city that is used to private transportation,” Thomas said Monday in a phone interview. “Therefore the learning curve is going to be longer. We have to do a better job of promoting the system. How it works, where it works, our destination signs have to be simpler and we’re working on that now.”
District 3 Hinesville City Council Member David Anderson Sr. told his fellow council members some of his constituents have said they would ride the buses if there were more routes spread across Liberty County.
Thomas replied per the federal grant which funds the system, Liberty Transit routes cannot be altered until a certain amount of time has passed.
“We know there are places where people want the bus to go, but right now we can only have them go where the grant specifies,” he said. “We’re going to look after six months and see where people want the buses to go and we’ll change the routes accordingly.”
Thomas added ridership should improve with the recent redeployment of 3rd Infantry Division troops and the demobilization of the 53rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Florida’s largest National Guard Unit, which returned to Fort Stewart this past weekend.
Liberty Transit began operating on Oct. 4. Passengers rode free of charge during the bus system’s first week of operation. During the month of November, 2,000 passengers rode city buses, Thomas said. The mayor told the council more than 500 passengers are currently riding the buses each week. To earn enough revenue for the system to pay for itself, the city needs more than 1,000 people to ride the buses each week, he said.
Liberty Transit is funded by a $1,255,952 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus grant, Liberty Consolidated Planning Commission representative Rachel Hatcher has previously stated.
“We were in competition with several cities to get it and we were one of the fortunate ones,” Thomas said. The purpose of the federal grant is to encourage communities to offer residents public transportation, he said. The mayor confirmed low income residents and the elderly in particular benefit from a bus system as they either can’t afford a vehicle or don’t drive.
Thomas added new swipe card machines will be installed on city buses and this improvement in service should make riding the buses easier for more people.
Liberty Transit general manager Theodis Jackson said the swipe card technology will give passengers a record of their bus trips.
“It’s similar to a bus pass but when they swipe the (new cards) it will give them a noticeable receipt of what’s been deducted from the card,” Jackson explained. “Someone can put an amount into a machine and their card will load up the (corresponding number) of rides. The monthly pass will still be part of the swipe card technology.”
Bus passes are available at the Fort Stewart Post Exchange, The Heritage Bank, Liberty Transit’s office and the Hinesville Water Department inside city hall, he said.
“(Ridership) has started picking up slightly,” Jackson added. “It’s a matter of the public getting used to using the system.”
During Hinesville’s annual Christmas parade, Jackson said he handed out flyers and spoke to residents about the new system. He said getting the word out also should improve ridership.
Liberty Transit operates within the cities of Hinesville and Flemington and Fort Stewart, according to libertytransit.org. Buses run approximately from 5:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 5:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on Friday and from 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. on Saturday. Buses do not run on Sundays or holidays, including Christmas day, New Year day, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day or Thanksgiving.
Regular fare is $1 per ride. Seniors and disabled persons may ride for 50 cents per ride.
For information, go to libertytransit.org or Hinesville’s website at cityofhinesville.org and click on the Liberty Transit link under Quick Links.