September 8, 2006
916,000 riders depend on Augusta's public transit system every year.
But the department, like all city departments, is being asked to cut spending, which could mean fewer services.
More than 50 of those riders addressed the mayor and the transit operator Friday afternoon.
They say cutting services, especially Saturday services, would be like cutting their lifeline.
As a disabled, tax-paying resident, Louis Gilmore often needs a lift.
"Without the Saturday buses I can't go out and go grocery shopping," he told News 12.
Like thousands of other Augustans, he relies on public transit.
Deborah Ivis does too.
"Well, it's a challenge," she said. "It's a challenge for anybody who has chronic issues."
But the services they've both grown used to may soon be reduced. The department was asked to cut one million dollars from its budget.
On the chopping block is Saturday service, which would save roughly $300,000.
It also means both Louis and Deborah would be without wheels the entire weekend.
"My quality of life will go down dramatically if I don't have Saturday," Deborah said. "It's my only chance out. I'm still distressed that I can't go anywhere on Sunday."
The thought alone put one woman in tears. "It doesn't need to be cut especially on the weekend," she said.
The overwhelming number of complaints prompted mayor Deke Copenhaver and transit operator Hayward Johnson to address riders directly.
"We're here to listen," said Mayor Copenhaver. "I'm here to listen. Hayward's here to listen."
"As you listen to most of the people, most of them basically said the Saturday was the part that would effect them most," Johnson said.
Which is why the department may consider other avenues on its journey to cut spending while staying on the streets.
Hayward Johnson admits one million dollars is a tall order...but the majority of riders say they wouldn't mind paying a fare increase of say 25 or 35 cents if that's what it would take to keep Saturday service running.
The department is also looking at personnel cuts. It may eliminate up to seven drivers, including one management position.