The first step toward a regional, rural transit program has been taken by the Bryan County Commission.
The Regional Development Center has proposed a program available to residents in 10 coastal counties that will expand Bryan County’s current transit system, according to Barbara Hurst with the RDC.
"You’re already familiar with rural transit because you’ve been offering it for many years. We’d like to make it regional and expand the program, so anyone who wants to ride in Bryan County can do so, as well as across county lines," Hurst said during the May commission meeting. "We will add more vehicles to the county’s fleet and provide additional support."
Right now, the county transports six to eight people per month, which brings in about $40 in fares. This could increase considerably if they had more flexibility, Director of Community Services Tara Jennings said.
"I think I speak for all the board members when I say there are some reservations and concerns…but I think we’re all cautiously optimistic," Commissioner Rick Gardner said. "This has the potential to have a huge impact on our public. There was a need before the price of gas and now it will be even more important for residents to be able to utilize this program."
Hurst pointed out the regional program will provide consistent transportation to more places, while saving the county money.
The total cost of the program is estimated to be $2.3 million. The RDC will apply funding from the Department of Human Resources, broken down based on each county’s rural population size. Bryan County’s is 8.1 percent, meaning the county will need to pay in 8.1 percent, or about $25,000 per year. The county is currently paying roughly $100,000. County Administrator Phil Jones estimates the total savings will be somewhere between $25,000 and $120,000 in the first years of the program’s implementation.
"It’s more cost effective to do a regional system, spreading out the costs throughout 10 counties," Hurst said. "And as a component of this, we’re bringing in a free, regional van pool program for work commutes. With fuel going up and people needing to get to work, they’re going to be looking for alternatives."
Chairman Jimmy Burnsed said that will be a big advantage for the county, especially with the Industrial Centre and new job opportunities it will provide residents.
"We want to reduce the cost and expand the services you’ve got to help further your efforts and meet more of your residents’ needs," Hurst said, asking for their signatures on a resolution for the DOT to move forward with the program.
Gardner made the motion to approve the resolution and it passed with Ed Bacon voting against.
On Wednesday, the RDC Board of Directors met and Hurst said the two funding grants they’ve applied for were approved by the board and are moving into the final application stages.
"The New Freedom grant is for additional funds for the rural transit program and the JARC grant will help support the vanpool program," Hurst said. "We’re shooting to start these programs up on July 1. It’s going really well so far and the counties seem to be very pleased, as well as residents. They’re excited. I think it’s a win-win situation for everyone."