Bartow's Budget: Rising gas prices may raise Bartow transit fees
by Amanda Ryker
Feb 24, 2012 | 1946 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Driver Jackie Hayes says she has about 20 clients a day with most of them needing transportation to work and doctor appointments. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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* Editor's Note: This is part of an ongoing series that will look at Bartow County's budget by department.

Traveling through Bartow County is not always simple with hectic traffic. To help ease these troubles, and to ensure that people get where they need to be safely, the Bartow County Transit Department offers an array of services beyond general transportation, serving approximately 200 people per day.

"We have a total of eight transit buses, one minivan and one seven-passenger van," Charles Fluellen, transit director, said. "The two vans are used for meal delivery and transportation for folk who are in our nutrition program to the Zena Drive nutrition site and to take them home. The buses are used, primarily, for public transportation."

Transportation is, generally, offered to anyone in need of a ride to and from appointments. However, there are some outlying areas of the county that cannot always be serviced.

Fluellen offered this scenario: an elderly woman calls for a ride. Her home, which lies within the county, is 20 miles from the transit office. She is the only person along the route to her home in need of transportation. The woman will pay her $1 fee when she is picked up at her home and taken 20 miles back into town. At this point, a driver has traveled 40 miles for one person. At the end of the day, the woman will pay another $1 to be returned home. By the time the driver returns to the transit department, they have traveled 80 miles in one day for one person. With rising fuel costs, this person would be denied the service.

However, Fluellen said if there were four or five people along the route in need of rides, then the trip would be acceptable.

Of the $672,400 total funds provided to the transit department, approximately $100,000 is designated for gasoline -- a price that was only $19,000 when Fluellen began working for the department 13 years ago.

Due to rising gasoline prices, the current costs per trip for individuals using the transit services may increase.

Costs are now set at $1 per trip for ages six and above, $5 per trip to Rome and $2.50 per trip from Acworth to Adairsville. General transportation is designated for anyone above 18 years of age without the accompaniment of an adult. Children five and younger must ride in a car seat, which the department does not provide.

"The prices, unfortunately, will have to go up because as gasoline goes up we have to do something," Fluellen said. "We went from no cost and, when that first gasoline increase hit a while back, we went to a dollar for general population and 50 cents for seniors. We had to bring everyone to a dollar, and now that gasoline is almost $4 a gallon, we're going to have to look at where to go."

Currently, six of the eight transit buses are on the roads Monday through Friday, which calls for $13,500 to be set aside for parts when the vehicles are in need of maintenance.

The department accepts reservations for special rides to and from destinations such as medical appointments, shopping locations and local senior centers. A request must be filed at least 24 hours in advance before 2:30 p.m. to guarantee next day service. When making the reservation, residents should be prepared to write down a confirmation number. Should a ride need to be canceled, residents should call the transit office no later than two hours before the scheduled time. A failure to cancel a ride could result in a "no show," and citizens who acquire three "no shows" may have their riding privileges suspended for 30 days.

Riders are recommended to be ready to leave one hour prior to the scheduled departure from their destination and should be at a main entrance or on the side of a curb if weather permits. Transit drivers are allowed to wait five minutes before moving on to the next destination on their day's route.

Considering this requirement for a scheduled ride, along with communications back and forth with the department dispatch to notify them that the citizen is ready to be picked up from an appointment, telephone expenses total approximately $1,700. Radio service between the department and the drivers costs approximately $500.

While the 10 employees and Fluellen comprise the department, their total salaries are budgeted at $327,000. That amount, as with all county departments, encompasses holiday, sick, vacation and overtime pay, which is calculated on an as-needed basis and is figured into the budget in case it is needed, according to Jo Taylor, chief financial officer for the Commissioner's Office.

Although salaries require nearly half of the budget, the department's employees are taking one furlough day each month. To decrease interference with service availability, Fluellen and his employees agreed to set that day on either a Tuesday or Thursday, alternating the day each month. This decision stems from the fact that most of Bartow's residents who require dialysis treatment visit those centers on Monday, Wednesday or Friday. By taking a Tuesday or Thursday, those citizens do not miss a vital appointment or treatment.

Taking passenger safety into consideration, all drivers are trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and first aid.

"We [focus on] passenger safety and sensitivity training and we do that every three years for all of our drivers," Fluellen said. "In that, they learn that because a person is in a wheelchair you can't just walk up and grab onto a person. It's like me coming up, as a total stranger, and grab you on the shoulder. That wheelchair is a part of them.

"So we learn about how to put people on a lift in a wheelchair [and] people who are amputees. There's a certain level of stuff that you've got to do," Fluellen continued, describing the areas necessary to understand in order to offer the best level of services to passengers. "Their comfort level is different. We can blast an air conditioner for us, but for an amputee, it's a little bit different because their heat is escaping from their bodies a lot more.

"This training teaches you how to be sensitive to those things [and] how to be sensitive to the people who are able to get on the vehicles with animals. The only ones allowed are working animals and we realize that you don't touch the dog or bird or whatever it is. The drivers are completely trained not just in first aid and CPR but the sensitivity level of people as well."

To request a ride, call 770-387-5165 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The transit does not run routes on Saturday or Sunday and is closed on holidays observed by the Bartow County government.