published Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Leaders consider regional transit manager

by Andy Johns

CALHOUN, Ga. — A consultant told the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission that area transit agencies duplicate and triplicate effort and expenses and suggested a “mobility manager” to coordinate the work.

Many officials, however, said they would like to see proof that the new position would not be adding to the “alphabet soup” of agencies already involved.

Speaking last week, Claudia Bilotto, an HTNB Companies consultant working with the state, said the 15 counties in the state’s northwest region have 12 public transportation systems and 16 private providers under contracts.

The systems are overseen by local authorities and some combination of the Georgia Departments of Transportation, Human Services and Community Health. Bilotto presented a tangled flowchart with different loops labeled — DOT, DCH, DHS, CARTA and other acronyms.

“With three different agencies running things, they have to decide to work together,” Bilotto said.

She urged the commission to hire a manager to coordinate the various aspects on transit and see where duplication could be eliminated. She also touched on a proposal to do a better job linking transit systems in Rome, Dalton and other areas of the region.

The need for mass transit is expected to increase as baby boomers age, and Bilotto said forecasts call for a 10 percent increase in demand for transit over the next five years. Proponents say Bilotto’s plan would give more residents, especially seniors, more flexibility in getting to doctor appointments, going shopping and doing other errands.

“That is a change, and we want transportation options to be available,” Bilotto said.

Officials on the commission decided to table the matter until next month, and many expressed concern over adding another overseer to the mix.

“I’m not sure we’re becoming more efficient so much as adding another layer of bureaucracy,” said Brian Anderson, a commission member from the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce. “I had no idea that kind of alphabet soup existed. No wonder we’re broke.”

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley said he was open to ideas, but still had too many questions.

“We’ll listen to anything, but there wasn’t enough information,” he said.

Most of Bilotto’s recommendations fall under the $52 million transit project the commission included on its recently released transportation “wish list.” Plans submitted by the regional commission to GDOT call for a sustainable rural transit system to be in place in the region by 2022.

As it stands now, half of the funding would come from a transportation sales tax if it is approved by voters.

Whitfield County Commission Chairman Mike Babb, vice chairman of the regional commission, said that is too much money that could be used elsewhere.

“I’m not sure we’re to the point where we need to be talking regional transportation,” he said Monday. “I’d like to see some bridges and some regular stuff fixed.”

Whatever direction the commission decides to take, Executive Director Bill Steiner said the 30-day delay shouldn’t hurt because he expects it to be a lengthy process.

“We need to crawl, then walk, then run,” he said.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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