Moderated by Tom Sabulis
We should know Thursday the state’s plans for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority’s Xpress bus service; that’s when Gov. Nathan Deal releases his budget. Last year, the state spent $5.4 million to maintain the service, which provides about 9,000 rides a day to long-haul commuters to and from the suburbs and Atlanta. But questions about the state’s commitment to the service continue. Today, GRTA riders share their experiences, and an environmental leader writes about what transit options and the GRTA service mean for the environment.
Commenting is open below, following Tedra Cheatham’s column.
“I have been riding the Route 412 bus from Discover Mills (now Sugarloaf Mills) to Midtown since the route’s inception. It’s been great. I have not minded a bit that the fares have more than doubled since the start. The $4.50 I pay each way now is worth it, and I would pay more for the service. The bus is extremely valuable to my commute. I loathe the few days a year I have to drive and park. I use the time on the bus to read and nap, primarily things I can’t do in the car.
“I have to drive seven miles from home to get to the bus. Off-peak service is needed — even if routes were combined. Evening and weekend service would be nice in order to be able to use it for ball games and cultural events. Extending some runs to and from the airport would be useful, too.
“A rough calculation of the ridership on the I-85 NE corridor shows that the buses are worth close to a half a lane of highway capacity during peak times. That is, they are replacing about 1,000 cars an hour. Killing the buses and dumping that much auto traffic onto I-85 would start the jam earlier, make it last longer and make the peak jam times worse for all the I-85 users. The benefits of Xpress go beyond the utility for the bus riders.” — Don Oltmann, 56, unincorporated Gwinnett County
“I have been a rider of the Xpress buses for about four years now. I ride the 470/477 in the morning and the 470 in the afternoon. Between the two routes, there is a bus departing Hiram every 15 minutes. In the afternoon, I only ride the 470. Iit departs the Civic Center MARTA station every 30 minutes beginning at 3:45. The good part is obvious — less wear and tear on your vehicle and your sanity. The bad is that it takes longer than driving, especially since they changed the downtown routes and do not allow the buses on Peachtree Street. That added at least 20 minutes to the commute. They seem to be neglecting maintenance on those buses. I cannot recall the number of times that the air conditioning or heat was not working. Then there are the little things like the seat backs broken or the lights not working. I’ve had about three experiences where the bus broke down and had to wait on the next route to stop and pick us up. The past year has seen my usage decline significantly.” — Lee Gurley, 54, Rockmart
“I live about 45 miles south of downtown Atlanta and catch the bus at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton. Our buses appear to average 80 percent capacity. We have seven departure times in the morning and eight return times in the evening. While I don’t believe we need more runs, I would argue it would not be productive to have fewer runs, either. Over the years, Route 440 ridership has steadily increased in numbers and diversity (professionals, GSU students, blue-collar workers, even some folks just taking a day trip into Atlanta), noting temporary spikes when gas prices rise and a permanent increase when Clayton County stopped its bus service. Maybe area counties versus the state should be providing more funding for GRTA buses. I personally can’t understand why more people do not take advantage of the bus. It has saved me a significant amount of money and stress. Yes, there are aggravating issues, but they are usually infrequent and have declined as GRTA management has gotten more experience operating in and around Atlanta. I do not believe limited growth in ridership is a function of frequency of runs and available routes, but rather a culture that loves its cars and self control.” — Terry Stratton, 50, Griffin
“I was a rider from August 2006 until they changed the routes last year. It was so convenient for me to ride and a much less costly alternative to get to work. It saved me a lot of money at the time. I was driving a Nissan Pathfinder that drank gas, and parking in the cheapest lot I can find is still $7 per day. I work at 2 Peachtree Street, so the drop-off and pick-up locations used to be quite convenient, and it was so nice to be able to get on the bus and take a nap on the way to work and on the way home. It was a life saver — or it used to be. Things changed, though. My son started a different day care that opened later, and the bus was more difficult to catch. Then the routes changed, and the drop-off and pick-up locations were farther away. It’s not so bad when it’s nice out, but in the cold, or rain, or any kind inclement weather, it’s a nightmare.” — Melodie Henderson, 39, Douglasville
By Tedra Chetham
It’s hard to get metro Atlanta’s 2.2 million commuters to agree on something, but everyone grinding their teeth in rush hour agrees we have a serious traffic problem. It’s a problem that negatively impacts our time, money and well-being. The average commuter loses 43 hours in traffic each year, and all those lost hours cost metro area employers a total of $2.5 billion in productivity annually.
In a region where four out of five commuters drive alone to and from work, the need has never been greater to adopt new travel habits and look closer at a network of other options.
Today, there are more opportunities than ever before to use commute alternatives that reduce the number of cars on the road. Carpools, telework, transit options, vanpools, bicycling, compressed work weeks and walking are all viable options that can immediately reduce traffic congestion, and more than 400,000 metro Atlanta commuters use these options each workday.
The Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) commuter bus service stands out as an important part of the region’s transportation network. The Xpress bus system, for example, takes more than 9,000 solo-drive trips off the roads each workday, bringing commuters directly to the major business centers during rush hour.
This type of transit doesn’t require new infrastructure, but it gives commuters from Forsyth to Coweta the opportunity to get to town quickly and affordably. One fully loaded Xpress bus can take up to 57 cars off the road while allowing those on board to reclaim valuable time they might otherwise have spent behind the wheel.
The Xpress fleet creates efficiency on the roads and at the pump. Recently, Xpress was recognized with a PACE Award for implementing strategies to improve fuel economy in its fleet, including policies prohibiting unnecessary engine idling.
Vanpools offer a similar, smart solution for long-distance commuters who may not live near transit routes. There are more than 300 vans on the road across Georgia through a program directed by GRTA, each carrying up to 15 commuters into job centers, reducing traffic and saving the riders money on gas and car expenses.
The responsibility to “do something about traffic” falls on all of us. It’s not just about the driver next to you making a change. It’s not just about lawmakers coming up with a new plan, either. It’s up to individuals and businesses as well.
While new infrastructure takes new funding and years to complete, choosing to join a carpool or structuring a program for employees to start teleworking can be done today.
When you are ready to change the way you get to work or how your employees get to work, check out Georgia Commute Options, a new joint effort involving the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Clean Air Campaign and the region’s transportation management associations. This program helps metro Atlanta commuters and employers take advantage of commute alternatives through free services like financial incentives, ridematching, pre-tax deductions, workplace consulting and more.
Each workday, the commuters and workplaces participating in these programs eliminate 1.1 million miles of vehicle travel from our roads and keep 550 tons of pollution out of the air we all breathe. There’s still a lot of potential to grow those numbers, and it begins with individual commuters and employers choosing a better way to work.
Tedra Cheatham is director of the Clean Air Campaign.