MTA seeks new bus riders with free fares, special offers

This week the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority is hoping “Weird Al” Yankovic -- and a variety of special offers -- inspires local residents to try something new.

“Another one rides the bus,” Al sang in 1981; and that’s what the transit authority wants to happen in Macon, hundreds of times over.

MTA is promoting “Try Transit Week” through Friday, with discounted fares and special events to encourage new riders and to thank longtime customers.

A few years ago MTA buses only met their schedules 30 percent to 40 percent of the time. The old buses broke down frequently, and there was no way to track them. But with a new monitoring system and a fleet of new buses, the on-time rate has increased to almost 95 percent, according to the authority.

That, along with discounts for senior citizens, has kept ridership increasing steadily. Now the transit authority carries an average of more than 3,000 people per day and expects many more this week, said Clarita Smith, MTA chief operating officer. They hope especially for people who have never ridden public transit before, she said.

And one of the week’s highlights will be trying out a new route to primarily serve Geico employees, the Ocmulgee East Industrial Park route. That will be running free of charge Thursday.

“It should be a real heavily ridden route,” said Rick Jones, transit authority CEO.

Geico surveyed its employees and got an “overwhelming” response to the proposed bus route, according to a letter from Meredith Rosser, the company’s human resources director, to city and county officials. Eighty-eight percent of those who answered said they’d be interested in riding a bus to work. That’s nearly 1,000 people and likely will increase soon, he wrote.

“We currently employ over 4,800 associates at our Macon regional office,” Rosser wrote. “We plan to add over 500 associates to our payroll before the end of the year.”

A federal grant will pay $207,191 to establish and run the route, while the city of Macon is putting up $124,314. Bibb County is providing $82,877.

That route, not yet officially established, may soon extend even further, Jones said. The Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority is announcing a “major investment” Monday, expected to be a 960,000-square-foot distribution center in the I-75 Business Park which could bring 400 construction jobs and 140 permanent jobs. The project on Frank Amerson Parkway, scheduled for completion in late 2013, was reported by the Atlanta Business Chronicle to be Tractor Supply Co.

Jones said the Ocmulgee East route might serve that business, too. At least initially, it will start from Terminal Station and go down Martin Luther King Boulevard to Gray Highway, then down Ocmulgee East Industrial Boulevard to Geico and nearby businesses, he said.

Fares on all MTA routes will at least be reduced throughout the week, cut to 50 cents instead of the usual $1.25, and paratransit fares will be $1 instead of $2.50, Jones said.

City, county and other government employees can ride free on Monday, with official identification.

Tuesday there’s a free preview of another new route: running up Second Street, perhaps with a tour guide on board from the Macon-Bibb County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

That route will go from Terminal Station up Cherry Street, turn to pass City Hall and The Medical Center of Central Georgia and go on to Mercer University, then circle back to Second Street and cross Interstate 16 to Coliseum Medical Centers before returning to Terminal Station, Jones said.

The Second Street route is in anticipation of a street revitalization project pushed by Mayor Robert Reichert. The special purpose local option sales tax Bibb voters approved in November 2011 includes $8 million for Second Street, though that’s only expected to pay for the first phase. A new curving section will be built to connect Second to Mercer University Drive, establishing a continuous avenue from Emery Highway through downtown, past The Medical Center of Central Georgia and the university.

For more than a year Reichert has promoted turning the street into a walkable boulevard with bike lanes, lots of landscaping and high-tech businesses. He has described mass transit as a key part of that plan.

Wednesday, billed as “Customer Appreciation Day,” all routes are free to the public. At Terminal Station a vendor fair will include food, children’s activities and tours of the building.

Many of the week’s 33 sponsors such as the Medical Center, Nu-Way Weiners, numerous local colleges, Geico, banks and government agencies will have booths set up during the day’s “vendor fair,” Jones said, offering various services, perhaps including some job applications.

The Ocmulgee East Industrial Park route will be free to riders Thursday.

Friday is MTA employee appreciation day, with many more family activities and a prize drawing scheduled at Terminal Station.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.