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Macon bus service gets reprieve after county offers amendment to return funding

Para-transit driver Novella Smith, left, helps Jonathan Mercer get home from work Friday afternoon in west Macon. Macon transit buses are now expected to run next week except for the Fourth of July, Craig Ross, president and CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority, said Saturday. But for how long remains uncertain as budget discussions continue.
Para-transit driver Novella Smith, left, helps Jonathan Mercer get home from work Friday afternoon in west Macon. Macon transit buses are now expected to run next week except for the Fourth of July, Craig Ross, president and CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority, said Saturday. But for how long remains uncertain as budget discussions continue. bcabell@macon.com

Update: The head of the transit authority said Saturday that buses are expected to run next week except for the Fourth of July, after a committee of the County Commission decided late Friday to offer budget amendments that include funding for the bus system.

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Several thousand people in Macon will have to find another way to get around town after the bus system is forced to stop operating Saturday evening.

Many of the 3,000 daily riders use buses to get to and from work, but for some of those bus riders it could be the difference in getting medical treatment, said Craig Ross, president and CEO of the Macon-Bibb County Transit Authority.

Ross said the County Commission's decision Thursday to not fund the transit system means buses will stop running after 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

"The biggest issue is Para-transit," he said. "We have 140 riders per day, half of those are dialysis patients. They've got to get treatment three times a week, and for most of them (Para-transit) is critical.

"We transport people that need life-saving dialysis," Ross added.

On Thursday, the commission passed a budget that cut out $10 million for outside agencies, which included $2.3 million for the transit system. Commissioners are continuing budget talks that could restore some money for those agencies, but in the meantime the transit system is one of the services that faces an immediate setback.

The amount of Macon-Bibb dollars the transit system receives also is tied to how much federal funding it gets. There are 79 transit authority employees that would lose their jobs without money from the county, Ross said.

Mayor Robert Reichert said he hopes the County Commission can resolve the budget issues that are severely impacting agencies like the transit authority.

"We sincerely regret any inconvenience or hazardous circumstances that we've created by doing this," he told The Telegraph on Friday afternoon. "We (passed this budget) as a desperation measure to keep from being in default."

The commission will consider on Tuesday giving the transit authority $255,000 to keep running in the interim

Could the outcry from residents lead some county commissioners to change their minds about the budget?

"The only hope would be this hue and cry and angst is not lost on one of the (commissioners) who may say, 'On second thought I think there has to be better way, and I’ll vote yes on a millage rate increase,' " Reichert later said.

Commissioner Valerie Wynn, who voted in favor of the budget that eliminated the funding, said the transit system is too important to not try to find money for it to continue operating. She said a resolution on the budget could come early next week.

"I think the city should find some funding to keep (the transit authority) and the library open temporarily until we pass a budget," Wynn said. "The library and the transit authority are too special. They call them outside agencies, but to me those are actually associated with the city and provide city functions for the whole community."

Macon resident Barbara Nelson said buses are her primary mode of transportation since she does not have a car.

From the elderly to teenagers going to jobs, the bus system is the main way to get around Macon for many of its riders, Nelson said.

"(The county) can have money to do everything else with that money but can't have money to keep the buses running?" she said. "I feel that's unfair and unnecessary. We do need the bus transportation to get around."

Nelson added: "My opinion is they need to find a solution to handle the problem."

Telegraph reporter Nadia Pressley contributed to this report.

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