Highway 78 bus adds stop, sees more riders

SNELLVILLE - Since a second stop was added earlier this month, the peak number of passengers taking a bus downtown from U.S. Highway 78 has topped 200 people.

While the number of riders on the Xpress bus fluctuates depending on the day, May 14 and 15 had 213 and 210 riders respectively on a route that started with just 44 passengers.

On May 25 that number was back down to 85 according to Gwinnett County Transit. But on the morning of May 29, rider Joyce Reiling said, when she got on the bus at 5:40 a.m., it was standing-room only. Official figures for this week are not yet available and the number of riders provided by the county has not been audited.

"At least on the first bus, it's been full," Reiling said. "I was really surprised."

Reiling and others have said some of the early-morning buses have run out of seats. For more than a month, riders were only being picked up at a Park-and-Ride lot on Hewatt Road. May 11, a second stop was added at Snellville's First Baptist Church.

Joyce Purvis, the church's administrative assistant to the assistant pastor, said she has not talked to any commuters who are parking in the lot, but that everything seems to be going smoothly.

"It seemed like a good community service," she said of the church's decision to let some of its parking lot to be used for park-and-ride.

In April, the bus had an average of 83 boardings daily, Georgia Regional Transportation Authority spokesman William Mecke said. May's average was 151 riders daily through the 25th.

The bus, which has 351 seats available each day, is two months into a 90-day trial run. At the end of the trial, its ridership will be evaluated. Tim Collins, Gwinnett's transit director, said the two earlier morning routes are faring better than the later two.

County Commissioner Mike Beaudreau has said he is opposed to the form of public transportation.

But Brett Harrell, the director of the Evermore Community Improvement District on the corridor, said not driving to work is a quality of life issue that area residents are embracing.

"I think it's making a positive difference, definitely," he said. "Right away, there's no tremendous quality of life impact. But people choose to use the service. Choice is important in all transportation issues we look at."

Brad Jackson used to take the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority to his job at the Environmental Protection Agency downtown, but started taking the bus its second day of operation in April. He said about 12 people get off where he does, at the Federal Center.

He also said the bus is sometimes standing-room only and hopes the service is expanded.

"It's a much easier drive, a much easier commute," he said. "It seems the demand is certainly there. We're all very pleased. The county has needed it for such a long time."

Mecke said previously that GRTA's goal is an average of 87.75 boardings a day by the end of the trial period, for a 25 percent capacity.

Reiling, who used to ride from the Indian Trail Park-and-Ride lot, said she recognized about three people who moved from that bus to this one when she made the switch.

Since then, she said, each time she gets on the bus, she sees new faces.

"These are, I think, for the most part, riders who had been driving," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised and pleased that we had more riders. We never filled up the bus in the three years I was riding the (Indian Trail) bus."

"In general, people have been surprised," she said. "I think it's still adding people."

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 5:30 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.