A proposed bus service expansion plan in Douglas County by next year has been sparking push-back from some residents. "No Buses" signs have been popping up around Douglasville and an online petition continues to collect signatures from residents opposing adding a bus service in Douglas County, although the expansion proposal was approved by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners last year.
Douglasville City Councilman Mike Miller spoke recently by phone about opposition within the county, and said that while he would not be opposed to a bus system per se, he feels the current proposal under review has left the city too much in the dark.
Miller called the plan “... the most unplanned project that I’ve ever seen in 10 years of being in government office.”
“It’s just been a nebulous issue; there’s a lot of questions that the city has had that the county cannot or will not answer, and with the position that Commissioner (Kelly) Robinson has taken it’s obvious that the citizens are going to have to take a position on this,” Miller said.
Toward that end, a sign campaign opposing the buses was initiated by local activists and an online petition has been garnering growing support in opposition to bringing a fixed-route bus service to Douglas.
Among concerns the petition cites are possible increases in property taxes and crime, and an earlier budget shortfall of $11.9 million for next year, which has since been reduced substantially, as reasons why the new public transit isn’t needed.
“Doing it for a minuscule percentage of the county's population is unacceptable," said Brenda Bohanan, a member of the Douglasville & Douglas County for Civic Action Facebook group.
Miller said communication with regard to the buses proposal between the city and county hasn’t been too great.
He feels the county didn’t do enough homework before pursuing the grant.
The county has applied for about $6 million in federal grants to pay for start-up costs, which would cover the cost to run the expanded service for the first three years, according to Multi-Modal Transportation Services Director Gary Watson.
Miller said that [the BOC] notified the city earlier this year of their intent and gave the council only one day to write a letter of support for the grant they were looking for, which the city rejected, and instead, sent a letter opposing it.
“That was the first we had heard formally — now while I can’t speak for the [entire] council — the city had no formal knowledge until the request for us to support them for getting the grant,” Miller said.
And Miller said that a presentation to the council following the letter by former Douglas County Transportation Director Randy Hulsey did little to answer questions regarding county and/or city responsibilities for the up-keep of route stops, day-to-day operations, or other practical concerns.
“In four years when we go to negotiate a service delivery strategy this whole public service system may end up in the city council’s lap,” Miller said.
And Miller added that citizens in his ward who would have the biggest need haven’t voiced support for buses.
“In fact the whole sentiment down Campbellton Street into downtown is [that] most people are looking forward to the 92 re-route so that the downtown can establish more of a neighborhood feel; that’s what the downtown folks want, and that’s exactly the opposite of what the county is proposing,” Miller said.
But Douglas County District 2 Commissioner Kelly Robinson, who spoke by phone, explained that this only expands what is already in place.
Robinson said he is aware of some opposition to the plan, but had not actually seen any of the "No Buses" signs.
“Some of the fear is the belief that perhaps there’s going to be this urbanization of Douglas County and we’re going to lose our bedroom community, but that’s not true. We already have GRTA out here,” Robinson said.
Right now, the Georgia Regional Transit Authority (GRTA) runs limited bus service out of Douglas County to other parts of the metro area.
Robinson said several decisions have already passed through the BOC over a period of time and that this is not new, including the decision to expand the system, which passed 5-0 by the prior administration last year.
Robinson explained that a needs assessment in the community as part of a study that dated back about two years suggested an expansion of the existing flex system that provides transportation to the elderly, disabled, or those in need of medical attention, which serves about 80 people currently and has a waiting list of another 80 more. Additionally the assessment identified part-time workers and some need on the judicial side, as well, he said.
And that same study also made a recommendation for a fixed-route system, he said.
Robinson said the BOC was in agreement on the expansion as a means to meet the higher demand in the community and he confirmed there are four additional 15-passenger shuttle buses acquired, which will be showcased as part of a next step to inform the public about the service.
Robinson said the routes proposed are in the denser, high concentration areas that surround the city of Douglasville as well as Lithia Springs, where three commission districts come together around the mall as you’re heading towards Thornton Road. Two routes surround the city; one would serve the Thornton Road commercial corridor, and one would serve as an express to MARTA in Atlanta.
Robinson said the cost—beyond that first three years—will most likely come from several sources.
“The grant would give the service seed money to establish itself, gives it an opportunity to get some capacity, get your user fees in place, get those things that will help it be a palatable system over time,” Robinson said.
But Robinson said that beyond the three-year start-up grant funds “... there is a possibility and a probability that there will be a need to contribute from the general fund to supplement in addition to user fees and in addition to grants.”
The final action by the BOC would be to approve acceptance of grant funding currently applied for, which would occur around June of next year, Robinson said.
A recent annual survey done by the Atlanta Regional Commission showed growing support for improved transportation services in the region.