Transit Advisory Board suggests raising rates

LAWRENCEVILLE - Some express bus riders who live farther from Atlanta will have to pay more for their rides downtown, if a transit board's recommendation is approved.

But the fare increases of $30 for monthly passes are less than the $90 increase on some routes that was originally proposed.

Members of the Gwinnett County Transit Advisory Board agreed Thursday that the county's express bus system should be split into zones, with those traveling a longer distance paying more for their rides. They decided, however, that the number of riders they would lose by increasing rates so drastically would be bad for the system.

Instead, the board approved a recommendation that would increase one-way fares for all routes but Indian Trail and Discover Mills to $4 each way, from $3. The Indian Trail and Discover Mills routes would stay at $3 each way.

Monthly passes for those two routes would stay at $100, while the price would increase to $130 for all other express routes in the county. Discounts on 10-ride passes would be eliminated.

Shannon Whitworth, a Loganville resident who rides the bus from Snellville, said she was glad the decision kept fares low.

"We're very glad they have not gone as extreme as they could have," she said. "This is a win for us."

The recommendation will go to the county's Board of Commissioners for a final vote. That will probably take place in early April, but new fares would not go into effect until August.

In addition to changing the fares on those routes, the board recommended altering some routes that have few passengers. Those changes - to local routes 40 and 50 and reverse commute routes 101A, 102A and 103A - will save the county $300,000 a year, Transit Director Phil Boyd said.

Those changes will take place in May, if approved by commissioners.

A third change would eliminate free fares for children five years old or younger, instead letting children who are less than 42 inches tall ride free. No action was taken on a proposal that would have raised local rates by 25 cents, to $2.

The 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, Boyd said. The subsidy for 1.34 million local passengers is $1.60 per trip.

Brian Allen, Gwinnett's director of transportation, acknowledged that the county had received a lot of feedback from riders unhappy with the plan, many of whom said they would begin driving again if fares were raised to the proposed rates.

"Losing riders would cause a lot more congestion on I-85, there's no doubt about that," he said.