All Athens Transit services will be offered free of charge until April 7, as part of the local government’s response to COVID-19 (aka coronavirus). With UGA out of session, the bus is operating on a weekend schedule of nine routes, 7 days a week. It may be a reduced schedule, but at least the buses that are running will be free to the public.
Other changes in effect until at least April 7 include:
- Access to “The Lift,” a paratransit service, to restricted to medically-essential trips only.
- A “one-round trip” rule is in effect to prevent people from loitering on the bus for hours.
- All kids under 18 on the bus must now be accompanied by an adult.
- Board and disembark using the rear door only (to prevent all our bus drivers from getting sick).
- The Multimodal center building is closed to the public.
Coming soon, the bus may be free for all riders, permanently, at least if Commissioner Tim Denson is able to secure the funding in next year’s budget (FY 2022). With Athens Transit’s fareboxes coming to the end of their lifespan over the next couple years, Denson feels that the time has come to switch to a fare-free (or “zero-fare”) system. This will save Athens Transit a costly purchase of farebox machines.
The move to fare-free will require UGA’s support, due to the federal STIC funding that Athens is only eligible for after adding in UGA Transit’s ridership. This funding is divided up between Athens and UGA Transit according to a contract they re-negotiate every so often. Going fare-free without this contract is theoretically possible, but in so doing Athens Transit would lose money from both fares and STIC funding as well. So, it may not be financially feasible.
Once a contract with UGA is secured, Denson would only have to convince his fellow commissioners, many of whom (most notably, Mariah Parker) have already voiced their support for the plan.