Fare increase, service cuts proposed for Cobb transit system

Tough times could lead to higher fares for riders of Cobb County’s transit system.

Anticipating two years of budget deficits, operators of Cobb Community Transit, the bus service that runs throughout the county and to downtown Atlanta, are proposing an across-the-board fare hike and service reductions.

The proposal for CCT, which is part of the county's transportation department, will be introduced Tuesday during a county commission meeting and budget session.

For riders, local fare would go up 50 cents from $1.50 to $2 each way. Express bus service would increase from $3 to $4 each way, transit division manager Rebecca Gutowsky said.

Eszter Simon, 33, thinks that's too much. Simon is new to riding the CCT, but compares it to similar service in Columbia, Mo., where she frequently rode the bus for $1 each way.

"I would really think about paying $2 unless I had no other options," said Simon, who uses CCT to go between home and work at Southern Polytechnic State University.

Cleon Townsend agreed.

"They should lower [the fare] back down to $2 round trip," said Townsend, 66, while waiting for his bus at the transfer station in Marietta on Friday afternoon. "Times are hard right now, people don't have jobs and can't afford to pay anything else."

CCT's budget for fiscal 2010 is $19.1 million. Between 30 percent and 35 percent of the system's budget is funded through rider fares. Local operating funds are expected to decrease during the next two fiscal years as the county faces funding challenges and declining tax revenues. The system receives state and federal funds for capital projects. The budget for fiscal 2011, which begins in October, will be presented Tuesday.

CCT ridership for fiscal 2009 was 4.5 million passengers, and it is expected to be about the same for fiscal 2010. Ridership declined in the first quarter of the year, Gutowsky said, but numbers are rebounding.

Shanna Jones, for years one of the system's most consistent riders, thinks the fare increase is reasonable and would not deter her from using the bus to travel from her home in Fulton County to her job in Marietta.

Echoing the opinion was Julian Davis, 21, a Kennesaw State University student who was catching the bus for the first time Friday.

"Two dollars is not that much. I think it's reasonable for the service,"  Davis said.

In addition to the fare increases, riders could see a reduction in services, including elimination of Saturday service on two routes  and a decrease in Saturdays trips on other routes and on one route during the week. The system's customer service hours would also be cut, and customer service centers in Marietta and Cumberland would close, reducing locations to purchase tickets. Riders could still purchase tickets online and at CCT's operations center, Gutowsky said.

Public meetings on the proposed fare and service changes are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13 and 14 at the central library in Marietta.