As more and more families are mandatorily moved out of Augusta’s public housing projects, such as Cherry Tree Crossing on 15th Street, Augusta commissioners are beginning to realize the city will need to address some serious issues regarding the relocation of these residents.
Specifically, many of the former residents of Cherry Tree Crossing depend on the Augusta Public Transit system to help provide for their families.
“We have, especially in the inner city, gotten rid of a number of public housing establishments,” Augusta Commissioner Alvin Mason told his colleagues this week during the commission’s Public Service Committee. “Like it or dislike it, they are coming out to the south area where there is no bus transportation. That is a problem.”
If these residents are relocated to rural areas of south Augusta that do not provide any transit service, many will have no means of transportation to seek new employment opportunities, Mason said.
“So we have to work together to address that issue because it is going to cause us an even bigger issue if we don’t,” Mason said. “These folks are being mandated to move but they haven’t been given the resources to be successful. This is happening as we speak. We have pushed them out to areas that don’t have public transit.”
Mason suggested that the Augusta Commission have a discussion with the Augusta Housing Authority to see if the organization could help subsidize the city’s transit system.
“We need to see how we can get some federal or state dollars through the Augusta Housing Authority to help us subsidize our transit system,” Mason said, explaining that the city won’t have any choice but to expand their service to south Augusta. “So, we’ve got to get this money somewhere.
“These folks didn’t create this situation, but the fact of the matter is, they won’t be able to go out and feed their families simply because they don’t have transportation to make it happen.”
A few weeks ago, Tim Lett, of McDonald Transit Associates based in Fort Worth, Texas, presented the commission with a plan to expand and make improvements to the Augusta Public Transit system, but at a cost to taxpayers of more than $2 million.
While Lett wanted the first phase to include an increase in the frequency of bus service throughout the county, he told commissioners this week that he also wanted to add new bus service to Fort Gordon.
Serving the military in Augusta should be an increased priority for Augusta Public Transit, he said.
“We also would like to do outreach and marketing in the system to gather new riders and what we call ‘choice riders,’” Lett said.
He explained that it is important for the city to understand why people don’t currently use the bus system in order to make the proper improvements.
“It is pretty simple, actually,” he said. “People don’t use the bus because, No. 1, they don’t know how; No. 2, they are afraid to use it; and No. 3, they don’t know where it is going.”
Mason, who represents 66 percent of the residents at Fort Gordon, said it was extremely important to add a bus route to the Army base.
“We all just celebrated Veteran’s Day yesterday and I found it offensive that I’ve been on this commission for the past six years and we have not provided adequate transportation for our soldiers,” Mason said. “Very clearly, they are paying $10 a head to go downtown. So, if you put five soldiers in a taxi, it costs them $50 to go downtown and then they have to turn around and come back.”
Those prices are not only outrageous, but they are shameful, Mason said.
“These are the same soldiers that we send out across this world to defend our freedoms and we are charging them up the butt just to get downtown and enjoy our downtown and to enjoy our mall,” Mason said. “There is a fundamental problem with that… We have to take care of our soldiers at Fort Gordon.”
The Augusta Commission already had a meeting scheduled with some of the officials at Fort Gordon on Nov. 22. Mason suggested that the commissioners discuss the possibility of a new route to Fort Gordon during that meeting.
Augusta Commissioner Marion Williams said a new route to Fort Gordon would not only be beneficial to the soldiers, but also to businesses throughout Richmond County.
“They generate a lot of economic dollars in the city,” Williams said, adding that he can’t stand to see a taxi van sitting and waiting 20 minutes with only two or three soldiers inside the vehicle. “They have to wait for five soldiers. If they don’t fill the van up, they won’t go.”
But Williams wanted to emphasize that, if the city decides to expand its bus service throughout the county, it is crucial that the service becomes more dependable than it is now.
“You have to create a need. You have to have a reason to ride,” Williams said. “If the bus is not going to be frequent and if you don’t know the schedule, you won’t ride it. If people know I can get on the bus and I can get there on time, a lot of people would leave their cars at home.”
Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett said he was thrilled that the city was considering providing transportation to Fort Gordon, however, he was more worried about the city’s “everyday” rider.
Lockett suggested the city consider providing such riders a reduced rate for an extended period of time as an incentive to commit to riding the bus.
“I’m more concerned with John Q. Public who has to get to and from work, who doesn’t have an automobile, and who has got to rely on public transit,” he said.
Lett said he would take all of the commissioners comments into consideration. City Administrator Fred Russell suggested that they bring back a plan to improve transit during the Public Service Committee’s Nov. 25 meeting.