Coastal Georgia is set to go through a positive change, according to Barbara Hurst, transportation director of the Coastal Regional Commission, formerly the Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center.
Recently she talked in depth about a twofold transportation program that is moving from a study to an actual bus and van system. One is a reservation, on-demand system where one calls a dispatcher, makes a reservation and is picked up and delivered to a requested destination. The second, an industrial/employee vanpool program for workers to travel to-and-from the job place.
Stakeholders in Coastal Georgia transportation and advocates for improved travel are putting new dollars towards humanizing travel for the elderly, low-income residents, persons with disabilities and commuter workers, in a two-part program commencing soon and phased in over the next five years.
The Regional Rural Public Transit Program provides demand-response, advance reservation public transportation in nine of the ten coastal counties. This reservation system facilitates passenger travel to-and-from doctor appointments, health care centers, and provides a ride for residents in assisted living or nursing homes, homebound or to visit family, friends, or a trip to the mall or grocery store.
Hurst said a feasibility study to determine the need for a regional rural and coordinated public transportation program was initiated in April 2005 and completed in November 2005. The report states only 60 percent of estimated trip demands for the coastal Georgia area is being met. The report also states that approximately three percent of households in the region are without a vehicle and 15 percent live in households below the poverty level.
She added the key objectives of the Regional Rural Public Transit Program are to establish a system to serve regional trips; consolidate funding resources for transportation services with public transit to offer a cost-effective general public service; increase efficiency and quality of the service; and to promote a system available to anyone, for any purpose, to any destination within the designated area.
Phase II of the study, initiated in September 2007 and now near completion, includes routing maps, establishing zones, designing a regional dispatch system, communication equipment, computer software and the placement of vehicles.
The fare for ridership on the rural public transit system is $3 one-way within the rider’s county of residence, ($6 round trip); with an additional $3 one-way for each county boundary crossed if the rider travels outside their county of residence. (For example, a rider from McIntosh County traveling to Liberty County will pay $6 one-way, $12 round trip.)
Mini vans and shuttle type buses are the main vehicles. To date, approximately 60 vehicles have been ordered and scheduled for delivery.
In addition to the Regional Rural Public Transit Program, a Regional Vanpool Program is designed to provide reliable and cost-effective transportation to employees commuting to and from work. This program provides incentives for businesses and industries that elect to participate and also to the workforce for whom it’s designed to support. Employer contributions are a part of the Regional Vanpool Program.
Commuter travel to and from the Savannah area constitutes the most significant travel pattern within the region. This has driven traffic volumes and congestion on the primary commuter corridors leading to and from Savannah.
Physical and jurisdictional topography play a significant role in shaping travel patterns. With large areas of marshlands, numerous rivers the transportation system has natural constraints that either preclude or limit widening or construction of new facilities.
The Regional Vanpool Program accommodates eight to 15 employees per vehicle and can play a role in reducing traffic congestion as well as reduce individual costs of work commutes. Hurst pointed out that due to a reduction in the number of vehicles on the roads other benefits that can be realized are reduced wear and tear to roads and highways and, of course, a reduction in the number of required parking spaces.
Hurst added this could contribute to local economic growth by attracting potential business and industry, adding to job growth and job retention.
The cost per rider is contingent upon the number of employees (per vehicle) and the number of miles traveled. Regional Vanpool Program riders receive tax incentives and an “emergency ride home” in case of illness.
“Today with financing in place, vehicles are ordered and we are on the verge of the program literally hitting the road,” Hurst said.
She added nine out of 10 counties in the coastal region recognize the need for the programs and agreed to contribute their respective share of local match to support the programs. Both programs have been appropriately funded for successive years.
“As with any new program the Regional Rural Public Transit Program and the Regional Vanpool Program are a work in progress,” Hurst said. “The programs can be modified according to what works as we move through the process.”
For more information about the Regional Rural Public Transit or the Regional Vanpool Program, contact Hurst, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (912) 262-2830.