Rome officials were surprised to hear during a recent Transit Development Plan roundtable discussion that Berry College is losing out on some transfer students due to the lack of public transportation options for them.
“It was staggering to hear the vice president for student affairs of Berry make that comment,” Assistant City Manager Patrick Eidson said Monday during the Rome City Commission caucus discussion on the future of Rome Transit. “That was a real eye-opener. If we could tap into that ridership, that would be a game changer.”
Berry College Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs Lindsey Taylor also disclosed during that Jan. 22 roundtable talk that students have been getting rides to off-campus medical facilities from campus police.
“The campus police try to fit them into their schedule, but who wants to show up to an appointment in a police car?” Taylor said, adding more students than ever listed transportation as one of their main frustrations on a recent campus survey.
During Monday’s caucus at City Hall, transportation consultant Jim Moore of Moore & Associates told commissioners the key to an efficient, sustainable transit system is providing more frequency of buses in the areas with the highest demand for service.
As RTD routes stand now, there is an hour lag between pick-ups at all the stops. Back in the late 1970s and early ’80s, buses were coming by every 15 minutes, Transit Director Kathy Shealy said.
Moore said it’s vital the city find a way to get back to the 15-minute schedule again if it wants to attract more riders.
“An hour is just about the least viable frequency you can operate under,” Moore said. “Ridership would double if it was more frequent. This is how you broaden your market.”
Finding the funds for adding buses in the most needed areas and expanding to colleges and more rural areas is the challenge, Moore said.
Moore said this is why he made it a point to let stakeholders know during the five roundtable discussions over the last week that they should consider contributing to the funding in some way through special partnerships and grant applications.
Commissioner Craig McDaniel pointed out that a case also would need to be made to taxpayers if only 2 or 3% of the entire population is actually riding buses.
“It’s going to be hard to explain to the average taxpayer why this is so necessary,” McDaniel said. “We have to be able as elected officials to understand it ourselves to be able to present it to the public properly.”
Moore said Rome residents will be invited to attend “big tent” workshops in February that will help explain the need and provide an opportunity for feedback and creative input.
He said the key to designing a workable, long-term transit system will be in trying various routes and schedules through temporary pilot programs for, say, 90 days to see if it sticks.
“That way you’re not stuck with something that is not going to give you the ridership you need,” Moore said.