Houston & Peach

Journey begins to expand public transportation beyond Warner Robins

Warner Robins Transit bus driver Deborah Early waits for passengers at one of the stops on her route in December.
Warner Robins Transit bus driver Deborah Early waits for passengers at one of the stops on her route in December. wmarshall@macon.com

A plan to greatly expand public transportation throughout Houston County could be facing a long road.

That effort, which is in its infancy stage, has several obstacles to be cleared, including getting backing from city and county governments. It would be a transformation to the Warner Robins Transit bus system that currently has two shuttle buses making several dozen stops on weekdays throughout Warner Robins and to the Houston County Galleria in Centerville..

The push to expand the Warner Robins Transit system to areas like Byron and Perry is being led by local nonprofit Educare Center, Inc.

The organization took over the management of the system earlier this year from the Warner Robins and Houston County Housing authorities. Starting in January the nonprofit will have full control over the entity, and its CEO says she’ll be reaching out to government leaders to gauge their interest.

“We want to continue providing public, demand transportation and paratransit for the community but we need your help to expand the current public transportation system to meet the needs of our growing cities in our urban community,” Educare’s CEO Spring Rosati wrote in a letter to the Warner Robins City Council.

Warner Robins Transit began operating in December 2015 with the help of a $70,000 federal grant. The following year the Warner Robins City Council pledged to provide another $160,000 over a two-year period for the bus system.

Future funding could come from a nearly $2 million federal transportation grant that would require a 60-percent match from local governments.

However, in order to receive the grant, a transit authority overseeing the system would have to be established or the city of Warner Robins (as the largest city in the system) would have to apply and have an agreement that Educare operates it, Rosati said.

A metropolitan planning agency could also be involved in the transit system expansion.

Officials’ reaction

The cooperation of city and county leaders could be a lynchpin for getting new buses, hiring more drivers, adding more stops and other improvements.

Several Warner Robins council members have publicly stated they want to know which other government bodies would be on board before deciding how to proceed.

There’s already $250,000 from Houston County’s special sales tax revenue that will be provided to the city of Warner Robins for the purchase of new buses.

But beyond that, there are no plans for Houston County government to have any further involvement in Warner Robins Transit or a new transit authority, County Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said.

Byron Mayor Larry Collins said he had not been approached yet about a transit expansion. If it happens then he would have a regional agency research it to find out if the demand is there.

There’s already another agency that’s able to take Byron residents to doctor’s appointments and to other services in Peach and Houston, Collins said.

“We’re not aware of a need,” for expanded public transportation, Collins said. “If there were one we could explore ... having it through an existing system instead of creating a regional authority.”