Transit board will decide fare recommendation tonight

LAWRENCEVILLE - More than 130 people spoke out about a plan that would increase transit fares on Gwinnett County buses. Tonight, a local advisory board will decide whether to listen to the outraged commuters.

Jon Richards, chairman of the Gwinnett County Transit Advisory Board, said a meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. in the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center's auditorium.

There, board members will decide whether to raise transit fares that have been stagnant since 2002.

A proposal in front of the board would raise local rates by 25 cents, to $2, and increase the rates for express bus riders from $3 across the board up to $5 a trip, depending on the route's distance. The proposal would also eliminate discounts for buying multi-ride passes and change or eliminate some routes.

For some riders, the proposed change amounts to a 90 percent increase, as monthly passes rise from $100 to $190.

Richards said tonight's meeting will not be a second public hearing - more than 30 people spoke in opposition to the increase at a hearing last month, and 100 more submitted their comments through other means - unless board members consider raising prices even higher. He said he did not expect that to happen.

"It's not intended to be another chance for folks to voice their opinions," he said.

Richards said he saw just one comment supporting the change, though several riders said they understood the need for the fare increase, but disagreed with the rate.

At February's public hearing, residents said the fare increase would price the system out of the range of commuters.

The Transit Advisory Board is trying to reduce the contribution the county makes to the bus system because of budget shortfalls. Gwinnett subsidizes its 666,000 express passengers at a rate of $3.25 a ride, Transit Director Phil Boyd said. The subsidy for 1.34 million local passengers is $1.60 per trip.

The advisory board's recommendation will go to the county commission, where commissioners will make the final call on what the rate will be. Richards said members have the option of recommending the plan be forwarded to commissioners in its entirety, of rejecting it or of recommending an increase, but of lesser amounts.

"We didn't expect too many people saying this was a good idea," he said. "People think maybe it's reasonable to raise our prices because costs have gone up, but there's some objection to the level."

SideBar: If You Go

What: Transit Advisory Board meeting

When: 6:30 tonight

Where: Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center, 75 Langley Drive in Lawrenceville