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Gwinnett riders call transit service 'good' in survey

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett transit riders said their primary reasons for commuting on the bus are the cost and the ability to avoid traffic, according to a recent survey.

Conducted by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority in January and February, the survey said 41 percent of riders of Gwinnett's express routes use the service because it's less expensive than driving, while 40.1 percent said they like not fighting other drivers on their way to work.

Overall, Gwinnett riders gave the service a 3.6 rating, between "good" and "very good" on a scale of one to five.

William Mecke, a GRTA spokesman, said he thinks the system's results skewed low in the county because the survey took place while Gwinnett leaders were discussing raising transit fares, in some cases by $90 a month.

Earlier this month, monthly express bus fares were raised from $100 to $150 for some riders.

Mecke said he thinks Gwinnett's numbers - from cost to comfort - will be higher after the new rates have been in effect for a year, provided new rate changes are not being discussed.

"I'm willing to bet the fare hike proposals are reflected in there," he said. "We're not seeing a lot of poors, less than goods, we're seeing a lot of goods and betters. We want fives on everything."

Overall, the system received a 4.2 score, including riders on Cobb County Transit and GRTA Xpress buses. The lowest rating was a 3.0, in Gwinnett, in the cost category. There were 3,502 surveys returned, 689 of them from Gwinnett County.

Gwinnett riders also rated the system a 3.1 on comfort, which Mecke attributed to the fact that the county often uses smaller coaches. Cleanliness rated a 3.6 in the county, with driver courtesy getting a 4.1.

Mecke said of Gwinnett commuters, more than 78 percent have two or more cars in their households. More than 11 percent have four cars or more.

"They're choosing to ride because they like to ride," he said.

The agency will use the information gathered in the survey to determine how to improve the service for customers, Mecke said.

He said as gas prices rise, GRTA is seeing more and more interest from commuters who may look into taking the bus. Now, the system has about 3,500 riders daily, he said.

Lovejoy rail funding

to be considered

A new funding proposal discussed Thursday could have riders on the Atlanta-to-Lovejoy commuter rail line by the end of 2009, a Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman said.

Crystal Paulk-Buchanan, a GDOT spokeswoman, said the department's Intermodal and Building committees voted Thursday to forward a funding suggestion to the GDOT board next week.

The proposal would, in part, use lease revenues from the Western and Atlantic railroad line that CSX uses to fund some construction on the Lovejoy line and pay for design on the Athens-to-Atlanta commuter rail known as the Brain Train, and other commuter rail projects.

The two boards are proposing that GDOT staff conduct a feasibility study regarding the funding proposal, Paulk-Buchanan said.

"There's definitely excitement among members," she said. "They felt as though they were moving forward."

In the past, funding to construct the state's first commuter rail line has been available, but Clayton County balked at the idea of paying for future operating costs. Paulk-Buchanan said if the current funding proposal pans out, passengers could be riding to Lovejoy next year and Athens by 2013.

If the Lovejoy line is built, it could reduce car trips to and from Atlanta by 23 percent, she said. The Athens line could mean a 13 percent trip reduction daily.

"There was already excitement in the room about this funding option," Paulk-Buchanan said. "They were very positive toward rail. They were very excited about it."