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Highway 78 express bus service gaining riders

LAWRENCEVILLE - A month into the creation of a new express bus on U.S. Highway 78, officials say ridership is strong.

In the month of April, the bus had an average of 83 boardings daily, said William Mecke, spokesman for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

A boarding is the equivalent of a trip, so if one person rides the bus both to Atlanta and back, it is two boardings. In all, there were 1,737 boardings in the month of April and the number rose from 53 the first day the bus was operating to 118 April 30.

"We're really pleased with that," Mecke said. "So far, we're very happy."

The bus, which picks up at Hewatt Road in Snellville and continues to the Civic Center downtown, has 351 seats available each day.

Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who has said he is opposed to transit, refused to draw any conclusions from the first month's numbers. The bus will have a 90-day trial period, and he said it will be evaluated at the end of that period.

But the commissioner questioned whether most riders were new to the bus system and whether it was fair for Gwinnett residents to pay to get people to work in Atlanta.

"I know they're eating some of their own. I don't know how much of it is organic growth," he said. "Obviously, people like to get a subsidized ride to work. It's an Atlanta job-subsidization program. I'd rather see jobs in Gwinnett. I'd like to keep our own here."

Carol Jones live in a subdivision on Hewatt Road, where the park-and-ride lot is located. She said traffic is already bad there and would rather see more police officers than buses.

Jones said she thinks many of the riders come from Walton or other counties, not Gwinnett. She doesn't like the idea of supporting drivers from other areas.

At Beaudreau's recent town hall meetings, a number of people who ride the buses have talked about how pleased they are with the service, said Evermore Community Improvement Director Brett Harrell.

He expects that when a second lot is added at the Snellville First Baptist Church - it is in the final stages of negotiations, Mecke said - even more people will begin to ride.

"It's a quality of life thing for them," Harrell said. "They can relax, read the newspaper, whatever."

Harrell said he did not expect ridership to be so high so soon. Mecke said GRTA would like to see 87.75 boardings a day by the end of the trial period, for a 25 percent capacity.

At the end of the trial, he said, he will discuss the numbers with Beaudreau. Mecke said he hopes the bus will continue running after that conversation.

"Assuming we're at or above 25 percent, we'll keep going, if the Gwinnett commission tells us to keep going," he said. "It's started a lot like other routes and its grown steadily."

The Xpress Bus service is operated by Gwinnett County Transit and travels to the Civic Center, with stops at the Peachtree Center, the Five Points MARTA station and Capitol Square in the mornings. There are four morning buses, beginning at 5:40 a.m., and five in the evenings.

For more information on the routes, see www.xpressga.com or call 404-463-4782. Fares are $3 one way, and 10-ride passes are $27. Monthly passes are $100.