An estimated 5,000 clients of Georgia's Walker County Transit service will ring in the New Year by shelling out twice as much cash for their rides.
The upcoming fee increase from $2 to $4 per trip will take effect Jan. 2. It comes as the result of increased fuel and operation costs and the addition of riders who previously used Lookout Mountain Community Services' transit program, Walker County Economic Development/Resource Coordinator Larry Brooks said.
Brooks also is directing transit services now.
"At one time Lookout Mountain Community Services was providing some transit services to senior centers, Cornerstone and Anchor North, but they've decided not to continue those services and we've picked up the senior riders," he said. "We understand that it is a pretty big blow, but the problem we have is even after going up to $4, we're still not meeting fuel costs."
The additional riders have added about 50-70 transports to the estimated 200 daily transports the service already was providing, Brooks said.
"The reason Lookout Mountain Community Services pulled out is because they were losing money, and that's the same reason Walker County was looking at it," Brooks said, referencing Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell's decision earlier this year to continue the service after she considered dropping it. "It's not just Walker County. Other agencies [are struggling]."
Nearby Chattooga County upped its rates from 75 cents to $2 per trip in September to help offset costs, and Catoosa County doesn't offer transit service, Brooks said.
Some residents aren't in favor of the fee increase even though the transit service likely wouldn't survive without it.
"I know a lot of people who use this service are disabled people who need transport back and forth for dialysis services up to three to four times per week," wrote Leigh Ane McGill on the Times Free Press' Walker County Facebook page. "At $8 round trip that comes to $96-$128 per month. On a fixed disability income, which is most times barely enough to survive on to begin with, who could afford that?"
Brooks said the county recognizes fee increases may be a burden for people who use the transit service for medical purposes, but there are other resources for those needs. Both Medicaid and Medicare programs provide funding for medical related transport services like those Angel EMS provides in Walker County, he said.
"They actually could call Angel, but it's more convenient to use Walker County transit," Brooks said.
Email Rachel Sauls-Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org.