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Rural transit to get rolling by year's end
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The regional rural transit system scheduled to start this month may not get rolling until later this year.
Effingham County commissioners, who pledged their support for the program, were told the program may not get cranked up until between November and January. Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center representatives charged with putting together the plan are optimistic it will happen sooner rather than later.

So far, only Bulloch and Camden counties have opted out, according to Barbara Hurst, CGRDC coordinated transportation manager, with an understanding they are likely to participate next year. Effingham commissioners signed onto the program earlier this year.

“We are so excited in that respect that so many counties and (county) commissions feel this is a worthwhile project,” she said.

In order to finish the application for funding, the CGRDC has to have signed authorizing resolutions from the participating counties. Hurst said they are still working to obtain Chatham’s go-ahead. The funding would come through the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Authority’s Section 5311 grant program.

“The DOT is very excited about this,” Hurst said, “especially with fuel costs the way they are.”

Gov. Sonny Perdue is mandating that state agencies look at coordinating services to reduce costs, Hurst added.

“To utilize state and federal money, you have to show coordination,” she said. “It’s a very appropriate time.”

The regional rural transit system is designed to an on-demand, on-response program. Riders will call 24 hours in advance for pickup. Riders will let know the dispatch system know where they are going and how long they intend to be there. That trip will be coordinated with other riders headed to a similar destination.

The driver and vehicle on the return trip may not be the same one at time of pickup. In order to receive money under the Section 5311 law, the system has to be a demand-response set up.

CGRDC statistics showed that there were nearly 6,000 homes in the 10-county area without an automobile. There were also more than 36,000 people over the age of 60 in the CGRDC’s 10-county service area and 39,000 living at or below the poverty line.

The CGRDC has been working on the regional rural transit plan for three years.

“We were able to appropriately demonstrate the need for it,” Hurst said. “There’s a lot of need.

“It’s a huge undertaking,” she continued. “But it will be worthwhile. So many people will be able to maintain their independence because they are able to have a means of mobility. Many of us are tired of paying $4 a gallon for gasoline.”

On-demand system for all interested
CGRDC also provides human services agency transportation, but that program is limited by eligibility requirements. For the regional rural transit system, there are no such limits, Hurst said.

“It is for anyone for any reason in our system,” she said.

In areas where there are fixed routes, the CGRDC’s rural regional system will be a feeder.

Riders will pay a $3 fare for a one-way trip within a county. The fare goes up $3 for a one-way trip that crosses county lines.

“Until we can refine this, we’re phasing it in to make it affordable and to grow the ridership,” Hurst said.

The CGRDC wants to get the program on the road as soon as possible, but new vans from the state DOT won’t be available right away. In order to get the program rolling sooner, the state Department of Human Resources and the DOT agreed to use current DHR vehicles already on the road.

The CGRDC can’t order vehicles from the state management fleet until its application for the DOT funding is approved, so until it can make that request and get it filled with new vans,

“As we move forward, we will surplus those DHR vehicles out and replace them from the DOT fleet,” Hurst said. “It’s going to take several months to get new vehicles.”

The cost of the new vans will be phased in over five years, and any county that participates will not incur the cost of new vans, according to Hurst. The program is expected to have a fleet of more than 60 vehicles at inception.