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Rome officials are looking at ways to keep the city’s transit service operational after the buses stop being used to ferry students to and from city schools.

Students have been using the city’s tripper service for 35 years, but a recent audit by the Federal Transit Administration determined it’s not an authorized use of the program.

Rome Transit Director Kathy Shealy said funding is based on ridership and mileage, so ending the school bus service will affect annual grants.

Shealy, City Manager Sammy Rich and Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson answered questions about the impending split at the public works and transit committee meeting this week. They’ve been working with the FTA and Georgia Department of Transportation — and on behalf of the school system — on a plan of action.

City Commissioner Wendy Davis asked if the city would be able to maintain its current level of mainline, tripper and paratransit services.

“That’s the goal,” Eidson said. “GDOT has indicated that we could keep the proceeds from the buses to reinvest in the transit system.”

An estimated 26 buses and their routes are affected. When government-owned property becomes surplus, it typically must be auctioned to the highest bidder.

Eidson said they’re also talking with Floyd County officials about extending the service into the unincorporated area.

Currently, the system is limited to destinations within the city limits. If the county became a partner in a joint operation, it also could apply for transit grant funds.

Rich said there’s also “an opportunity to redesign paratransit and transit services to make them more attractive.”

He mentioned making the bus stops more convenient and comfortable but provided few concrete details.

He said it’s also possible that the school system will be able to contract with the city transit department to house and repair the new fleet of buses it will have to buy.

“Hopefully, we will have drivers who can work for both,” Rich said.

A Commercial Driver’s License is required to drive buses, but school bus drivers need additional training. Eidson said it takes about 90 to 100 days to complete the course and pass the test. The deadline for the two systems to split is Aug. 1, “so we will need help from our state and federal partner,” he added.

City commissioners on the committee also asked about how the school system would set up and finance a bus system from scratch, but city staffers had little information.

While the charter makes the school system an agency of the city government — the commission levies taxes for it — the elected school board functions independently.

“It’s their burden; it’s their responsibility. They are our client,” Rich explained.

Finance Director Sheree Shore said the school board is scheduled to present their proposed fiscal year 2020 budget to the city’s finance committee Wednesday.

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