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ACC Commissioners expected to vote on aid for Athens Transit

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Athens-Clarke County Commissioners are expected to vote tonight on whether to spend up to $225,000 in additional funding for Athens Transit. But, as WUGA’s Martin Matheny reports, it may be the beginning of a much larger discussion.

Athens Transit is running short on funds in large part because of a delay in the delivery of some expected federal money. Speaking at a meeting late last month, Mayor Kelly Girtz told commissioners, "There was the anticipation of a large tranche of federal funds to be delivered. The delivery of those funds didn't happen in exactly the sequence and timeline that that we would have preferred, and so thus we have to move some funds into transit to true up the FY22 fiscal year."

Funding for the county’s bus system has changed dramatically in recent years. In the 2017 fiscal year, nearly three-quarters of transit funding came from two major sources - the county’s budget and money collected from passengers. With the onset of the pandemic came calls to make transit fare-free for all riders. Commissioners enacted that move in April 2020, later extending the fare-free model, and funding it through at least June 2023.

But, the request for additional funding for Athens Transit has opened the door for another discussion of the fare-free model, with at least one commissioner expressing concerns that the measure hinders the improvement and expansion of services. Commissioner Russell Edwards expressed his reservations at last month’s agenda setting session.

"I'm not quite convinced that the fare free model has really gotten us where we want to go with our transit system." Edwards said. "Great, it's fare free, but what good is it if I have to wait 45 minutes to get on the bus?"

County Manager Blaine Williams told Commissioners that the topic might come up at a work session later this year.

Martin Matheny was promoted to Program Director and Content Strategist on July 1, 2022. He has served as the Executive Producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters', and he covers local government for WUGA News. He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on WUGA at 10pm. 'Night Music' can also be heard statewide on the GPB Classical stream Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm. As part of 'Athens News Matters' Martin works with student interns to help cultivate the next generation of Public Media rock stars! In his spare time Martin is an amateur book binder and freelance musician who frequently performs with Big Band Athens playing bass trombone. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.