For 35 years, the Rome Transit Department has been transporting students daily for Rome City Schools.
The contract eliminated the need for the school system to have its own bus service and provided the ridership numbers making the city eligible for Federal Transit Administration grants.
Now, a Georgia Department of Transportation audit of the system is saying the arrangement must end.
Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson said he and City Manager Sammy Rich have been in talks with GDOT officials since December, when the state consultant, RLS & Associates, issued its report.
"They said we are not operating our tripper service within FTA guidelines and we need to talk about transitioning it out of Transit and over to Rome City Schools or a third-party contractor," Eidson said.
The announcement came during the City Commission's public works committee meeting. The federal grants — used to buy buses and equipment and offset expenses the transit fares don't cover — are not available to school systems.
"What that potentially means for the community ... it could be devastating from a financial standpoint," City Commissioner Jamie Doss said.
Twenty-six buses and their routes are at risk, according to Transit Director Kathy Shealy. Officials don't have firm figures on the impact yet and Rich said they're still trying to contest the consultant's recommendation.
"It came pretty much out of the blue, and it's a pretty cavalier finding after 35 years," Rich said.
He's seeking help from State Transportation Board member Jerry Shearin and the county's legislative delegates to the Georgia General Assembly. He's also trying to arrange a meeting with GDOT brass in Atlanta to discuss options.
"This would require us to take a hard look at how we do business, at how we provide transit service in the city and to our schools," Rich said.
It's still early in the process, Rich said, and he has hopes the separation can be avoided. If not, he and Eidson said they would try to come up with a plan that would keep the city bus system running.
"The tripper service has really been the key to success for our Transit Department," Doss noted.