New bus service starts on U.S. 78

SNELLVILLE - Commuters sick of sitting in traffic on U.S. Highway 78 can leave the white knuckles to someone else, beginning next week.

The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority will begin a pilot program for downtown commuters along the corridor. The first bus will leave Snellville's First Baptist Church at 5:30 a.m. Monday, en route to the Atlanta Civic Center.

William Mecke, a GRTA spokesman, said a number of people have expressed interest in getting a ride to work, avoiding the stress that comes with traffic jams and the cost of high gas prices and downtown parking.

"We expect it will be popular," he said. "We think this one's going to do very will."

Gwinnett County will operate the buses, which Mecke said will hold about 40 people each for four scheduled morning trips and five every evening.

But County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who represents the corridor, said the 300 or so people who responded to a survey he sent out with questions about the service are overwhelmingly opposed to tax dollars paying for the buses.

Beaudreau said many residents think they will be able to ride to Braves games or go downtown to shop, and do not realize the service is for commuters.

"I'm not convinced of the need for it on 78 at all," he said. "I do not and will not support it."

The pilot period would be kept to 90 days before the route was re-evaluated, Beaudreau said, though Mecke said GRTA's pilot routes usually run six months to a year to give riders a chance to catch on.

Brett Harrell, the executive director of the Evermore Community Improvement District, said he supports the bus. The corridor is a good place for commuters from Conyers, Walton County and Snellville to converge, he said.

"My prediction is that it's full the first week," he said.

Mecke said fares will cost $3 one way, and 10-ride passes will be $27. Monthly passes will be $100.

Commuters will line up for the bus, he said, as gas prices continue to rise and they realize they can spend their driving time doing other things. Mecke said all riders are guaranteed a ride home if they use the GRTA buses.

"If gas gets above $2.50 a gallon, people are getting on the coaches," he said. "Every little bit helps. It helps air quality, it gets time back for yourself. You can read, you can sleep, you can talk quietly on your cell phone."

Beaudreau said the buses may be a good idea in theory, but require taxpayers to subsidize jobs in Atlanta. Other routes - such as those to Emory University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - do not yet exist because of the difficulty of traveling quickly through that area.

Beaudreau suggested private solutions, like van pools, might be more beneficial and said the money spent on transit would be better used to upgrade traffic lights or add turn lanes to congested roads.

The number of cars taken off the streets by the service would be minimal, he said.

"A lot of folks support the idea of transit but don't really intend on riding it," he said.

For more information

on the service, visit www.xpressga.com or call 404-463-1874 or 770-822-5010.