3. 0 transit needs assessment



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Athens Transit System

Transit Development Plan

3.0 – Transit Needs Assessment




3.0 TRANSIT NEEDS ASSESSMENT
The information presented in this chapter provides the context for identifying potential transit corridors in Athens-Clarke County. This chapter presents task information including evaluating region-wide (Athens-Clarke County and portions of Oconee and Madison Counties) socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and Athens-Clarke County existing and future land use. In addition, employer, stakeholder and focus group interviews were performed to identify and assess potential transit needs in Athens-Clarke County.
3.1 EXISTING AND FUTURE TRANSIT NEEDS
The Athens Transit System, together with the UGA Campus Transit system, provided fixed route (The Bus) and demand response (The Lift) service throughout Athens-Clarke County. But does the ATS system meets all the mobility needs of Athens-Clarke County? In order to understand the potential needs for public transportation, it is necessary to examine the community demographics, economic conditions, and transportation facilities and services available to the community. All of this information is critical to determining whether there are population groups in Athens-Clarke County now who are presently not served by public transit (and need it) and those population groups that may be underserved by existing transit services.
This section reviews and assesses the existing transit needs and opportunities for enhancing mobility in ACC and the surrounding area. The Needs Assessment begins with a brief description of the service area. This is followed by a review of the demographics and land use patterns that provides an understanding of where potential transit riders reside and where they need to go. A review of major trip generators and travel corridors was also conducted. This will provide insight to travel patterns that also offer potential as transit corridors.
3.1.1 Service Area
The existing service area for the Athens Transit System includes all of Athens-Clarke County. The county encompasses a 120.8 square mile area with a population of 101,489 (2000 US Census). The county population grew at a rate of 15.9% between 1990 and 2000. This growth rate is slightly behind that of the regional area (Barrow, Clarke, Elbert, Greene, Jackson, Jasper, Madison, Morgan, Newton, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Walton Counties) which grew 33.5% for the same time period. Physically, the area is primarily rural, with most of the population concentrated within the higher density urban areas of Athens-Clarke County, as well as the municipalities of Watkinsville, Winterville and Bogart.
As shown in Figure 1, the population of Athens – Clarke County has grown steadily (averaging 3% growth per year) from 1960 to 2000. In addition to the Athens – Clarke County permanent population, the county also is home to approximately 32,000 students at the University of Georgia.


Figure 3-1

Athens-Clarke County Population, 1960-2030

Sources:

U.S. Census Bureau, 1960-2000 population.

MACORTS 2030 Long Range Transportation Plan, 2010-2030 population.


Growth in the Athens region now extends beyond Athens-Clarke County boundaries. The population of Madison County (to the north) has grown by 45% in the past 20 years (from 17,747 in 1980 to 25,730 in 2000). Similarly, the population of Oconee County (to the south) has grown by 111% since 1980 (from 12,427 to 26,225). This growth in Madison and Oconee counties has led to new travel demands that are not met by the current ATS system.
3.1.2 Data Sources
Data sources used to complete the Needs Assessment came from the U.S. Decennial Census 2000, Census Transportation Planning Package (CTPP), Federal Highway Administration, Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Georgia Department of Transportation and the North Georgia Regional Development Center.
U.S. Census data was collected for 1990 and 2000. This data clearly shows where growth has occurred during the past ten years. The 2000 Census data also provides a detailed picture of the demographic characteristics of the Athens-Clarke County population. Demographic characteristics that are particularly useful for assessing transit needs include:


  • Population density

  • Households with 0 Autos

  • Disabled population

  • Elderly population

  • Low income population

Current and future demographic data was also provided by MACORTS from its regional travel demand model. 2000 Census data was provided on the block group level. Data from the 2000 CTPP was available in the census tract level for Clarke, Madison and Oconee County.


3.1.3 Need for Transit – Where Potential Transit Riders Live
This analysis provides a review of those population segments that are currently or potentially transit dependent within the MACORTS area. Potential transit dependent population are those segments of the population that, because of demographic characteristics, such as, age, disability, income, or lack of automotive availability, may potentially require transit services to meet their mobility needs. These “transportation disadvantaged” segments of the population include elderly persons (age 65 or over), disabled or mobility limited persons, persons living below the poverty level, and households with no autos. In order to conduct this analysis, data was extracted from the U.S. Census Bureau, using files SF1 and SF3, and summarized at the block group level.
Population Density
Population density is a reliable indicator of potential public transit use. Public transit relies on transporting large numbers of people from one trip origin area to a destination area within concentrated, developed corridors. Examples of these forms of public transportation include fixed routes buses, like those operated by ATS to downtown Athens and the UGA campus. Having relatively high density residential and employment densities help public transit systems operate efficiently.
The population density data was gathered from the US Census Bureau and mapped using the 2000 Census Block Groups. In 2000, the overall population density of ACC was 858.4 persons per square mile. Areas with the highest population density are concentrated in the central area of ACC, particularly in those neighborhoods that are in close proximity to the UGA campus. The Census Block Group with the highest population density in the MACORTS planning area is found just west of UGA campus bordered by Baxter Street, Lumpkin Street and South Milledge Avenue. This particular Census block group has a population density of 7773 persons per square mile. Figure 3-2 presents the spatial distribution of the 2000 population density in the study area of ACC, Madison and Oconee counties.
Figure 3-2

Population Density



Transportation Disadvantaged Persons
Individuals who are likely to use public transit are those with the most limited access to private means of transportation. Such individuals may not be able to drive their own automobiles for economic reasons, and thus are dependent on other means of transportation. Four commonly identified groups of transportation disadvantaged persons are: households with no automobiles, persons 65 years and older, persons 16 years and older with a disability, and persons with income below the poverty level.
Households with 0 Autos
Concentrations of households with no autos available are particularly important in identifying existing and potential transit needs. Without an automobile available to them, persons in these households must rely on alternate modes of transportation such as public transit for travel to work, school, shopping and medical care.
The data for Clarke, Madison and Oconee Counties is available at the census block group levels, thus giving us a detailed look at each county. Figure 3-3 shows the highest concentrations with no auto households can be found within the central portions of Athens-Clarke County, primarily in those neighborhoods within close proximity to UGA. Some concentrations of households with no cars or one car can be found extending north of downtown Athens along Barber Street and Newton Bridge Road.
Elderly Population
The elderly are also frequent users of public transit services, either because of mobility limitations or low incomes. Elderly as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau is those persons 65 and over. From Figure 3-4, the distribution of elderly persons is mainly concentrated to the west and southwest of Athens, while a pocket of higher numbers of elderly are located to the northeast of downtown Athens. The data was broken down to the census block group level. Several block groups just outside of Athens report up to 29% of the population as being elderly.
Disabled Persons 16 years and over
This segment of the population is typically very dependent on transit and could potentially be a strong user of a transit system, particularly ATS’ The Lift services. From Figure 3-5, the highest concentration of disabled persons over the age of 16 is mainly in the eastern and northern census tracts of Athens and extending north into Madison County. Low concentrations of disabled persons are located in southern Clarke County and extending down into Oconee County.

Figure 3-3

Households with 0 Autos Available




Figure 3-4

Concentrations of Elderly Population (> age 65)




Figure 3-5

Concentrations of Disabled Population (> age 16)




Poverty Status and Household Income
Poverty status and median household income are also important factors when determining transit feasibility. Census data from 2000 was analyzed at the Census block group level for the MACORTS planning area. The average median household income for Athens-Clarke County as provided by the US Census Bureau in 1999 was $21,188. The number of households living in poverty in Athens-Clarke County was 2,925 or 9.2% of the total households. The poverty status figure for Athens-Clarke County is lower than that of the US and the State of Georgia. The highest concentrations of below poverty level can be found in the central portion of Athens-Clarke County (Figure 3-6). Other pockets of poverty can be found spreading southwest of Athens towards Oconee County (along Milledge Avenue) and north along Newton Bridge Road. Poverty rates are lowest in Oconee County.
3.1.4 Need for Transit – Where Transit Riders Need to Go
Another component of the Transit Needs Assessment is to identify major trip destinations including major employers, shopping centers, schools, and medical facilities. A discussion of each type of destination is provided below.
Major Employers

To gain a better understanding of travel patterns in the MACORTS area, the top 50 major employers were compiled. Table 3-1 lists the major employers in the MACORTS area. Most of the larger employers are located in or near the central area of Athens-Clarke County. The list of major employers is diverse in various sectors including education, government, healthcare, manufacturing and services. Several large employers with 500 or more employees can be found heading north along the U.S. 29 corridor. The top five employers for the county are listed as follows: the University of Georgia, Athens Regional Medical Center, Athens-Clarke County School District, Pilgrims Pride, and Athens-Clarke County Government.




Figure 3-6

Concentrations of Population below Poverty Level



Table 3-1

Major Employers in the MACORTS Area


Source: Online Athens (a web service of the Athens Banner-Herald) and MACORTS 2030 Long Range Transportation Plan.
Shopping
Major shopping destinations throughout ACC were identified and located. Since different types of shopping call for different levels of transportation need, the destinations were broken up into three different categories:


  • Major Shopping Centers: Including malls and other regional attractors, such as the Georgia Square Mall, Wal-Mart Super centers and the Athens West Shopping Center and Athens East Shopping Center. In addition, there are several large shopping centers anchored by “big box” retailers.




  • Department Stores: JC Penney, Sears, and Macy’s




  • Supermarkets: Major food stores such as Bi-Lo and Kroger.

The highest concentrations of large shopping centers and retail centers can be found along the Atlanta Highway heading west out of Athens as well as in the southern part of the county near and south of the University of Georgia. Supermarkets and other smaller retail services can be found scattered throughout the county.


Community Facilities
The University of Georgia campus, with over 40,000 students and staff, is the state’s largest university. Elementary, middle and high schools are located throughout the study area. Table 3-2 shows other major community facilities in Athens-Clarke County and existing ATS’ routes serving the facilities.

Table 3-2

Athens-Clarke County Community Facilities


Existing Land Use
Figure 3-7 shows the existing land use patterns in Athens-Clarke County. A review of the existing land use map shows high concentrations of residential uses in southwest Athens-Clarke County along the US 29/US 78 corridor, with commercial uses clustered along the frontage of the corridor and major intersections of arterials leading into downtown Athens-Clarke County. There are large industrial uses on the north and northeast side of Athens-Clarke County. There are large tracts of public and institutional land uses right at the southern edge of downtown Athens-Clarke County; this is mainly due to the University of Georgia. There are smaller pockets of residential uses scattered throughout Athens-Clarke County. Large amounts of undeveloped land are prevalent, primarily outside the Loop Highway. Madison and Oconee counties are primarily rural in nature with large tracts of agricultural land uses.
Future Land Use
A review of the future land use map for Athens-Clarke County shows a large area of employment uses stretching from the north side of Athens-Clarke County almost to the Madison County line (Figure 3-8). There is also a large tract of employment uses along the US 29/78 Corridor heading west out of Athens-Clarke County. Residential uses are prevalent and spread throughout Athens-Clarke County. Commercial uses will be concentrated along the major corridors around Athens-Clarke County. Large tracts of land will be preserved; this is especially true in the furthest outlying areas of the Athens-Clarke County.
Transit options could be a viable alternative for residents to travel from the residential uses to the commercial and industrial uses that are shown on the future land use map.

Figure 3-7

Existing Land Use in Athens-Clarke County

Figure 3-8

Future Land Use in Athens-Clarke County

3.2 EMPLOYER SURVEY
An employee survey was conducted to gather worker attitudes and data regarding the transit system in Athens-Clarke County. The survey was conducted via mail, fax and the internet.
A list of the largest employers in Athens-Clarke County was obtained from the Athens-Clarke County Chamber of Commerce. The top twenty employers (listed below) were selected as recipients of the survey. A survey packet was sent to each employer. The packet included the following: 50 surveys, a letter describing the purpose of the survey, and an informational flyer that employers could post in employee gathering places. A total of 1,000 surveys were sent out to major employers. The survey was also made available on the Athens Transit website. The survey was sent to the following employers:


  • The University of Georgia

  • Athens Regional Medical Center

  • Pilgrims Pride

  • St Mary’s Hospital

  • Gold Kist, Inc.

  • Reliance Electric Co.

  • Power Partners

  • Invista

  • Carrier Transicold

  • McLane Southeast Grocery Distribution

  • Eaton Corporation

  • Flower’s Inc. Balloons

  • Merial Limited, Inc.

  • Certain Teed Corporation

  • Athens Banner Herald

  • Golden Pantry Food Stores

  • Athens First Bank and Trust

  • Athens Technical College

  • Athens-Clarke County Government

  • Randstad Staffing

Each employer was then contacted by phone to verify that the survey was received and to answer questions regarding the survey.


3.2.1 Survey Results
A written survey was mailed to 1,000 employers and also was posted on the ATS web site in electronic format. The final number of surveys collected at the end of the survey period was 129. The survey response rate was 12.9%. The following is an overview of the respondent’s answers to the survey instrument.
Of those surveyed, 76% were familiar with transit service available in the Athens area. Most respondents stated they were most familiar with Athens Transit. Others mentioned were the local taxi service as well as the UGA Campus Transit system.
A majority of the people surveyed, 79%, live within 10 miles of their workplace; 58% said that they need to make regular side trips (i.e. daycare, shopping, etc.); and 93% responded that they had access to a personal vehicle.
Respondents had differing views on their potential use of the ATS transit system. Asked if there was a van or bus service that they could ride to work, a majority answered they would be willing to try it: 26% said they definitely would use, 27% said they may try it, and only 12% said they definitely would not use. Of those who answered they definitely would use the van or bus service, 35% said they would use transit at least five days week. Most of the respondents were evenly split amongst riding transit one to three days a week and a small segment said they would use the service at least four days a week.
The majority of respondents, 61%, said they make between $20,000 and $60,000 a year. Just five percent answered they make more than $100,000 and less than $20,000 a year, respectively.
Many of the respondents had positive attitudes about transit. Many of the respondents said that ATS was good, clean, and efficient. Many also felt that the bus service was vital to the Athens community and also helped to serve the large student population at the University of Georgia. On the flip side, many of the complaints on the transit service are that the hours need to be extended to cover people who work late. Also, others felt the transit system needed to add more routes.
The following charts illustrate the responses received for the survey.
Question 1

Are you familiar with public transportation in the area?



Question 2

How far do you live from work?



Question 3

Do you have a regular need to make side trips, like dropping off or picking up children or wife/husband, on your way to or from work?



Question 4A

Do you normally have access to a personal vehicle (car, light truck, motorcycle) for traveling to and from work?


Question 4B

Is this transportation reliable?



Question 6

If there was a bus or van service that you could use to travel to and from work, how likely would you be to use the service?


Question 7

If you definitely would use bus or van service to travel to and from work, how frequently would you use the service?



Question 10

What is your annual household income?


3.3 STAKEHOLDER INTERVIEWS
Overview
To stimulate meaningful dialogue about public transit in Athens-Clarke County, the development of the TDP included a critical task, the public involvement program. This program required skillful application of a set of public involvement techniques for effective communications, assertive outreach, education and regulatory compliance to ensure that public participation in TDP is broad and inclusive. The stakeholder interview was one such technique designed to engage stakeholders in the transit planning and decision-making process. This section provides a summary of the purpose, approach, and findings of the stakeholder interview process.
The main purpose of a stakeholder interviews is an exchange of information on project goals, the planning process, and sensitive aspects of the project that are difficult to bring forth and address in a public meeting setting. Given the potential for regional transit in the Athens-Clarke area, the interview technique was most effective in enhancing ATS’ understanding of diverse viewpoints and accurately documenting and responding to these concerns.
Stakeholder Identification
A stakeholder interview is a one-on-one discussion with an individual recognized as a community leader, elected or appointed official, agency staff member and/or neighborhood activist from across the MACORTS region.
Over 40 stakeholders were identified as candidates for interviews. While the interview list is not fully inclusive of all key decision makers throughout the MACORTS region, the pool of interviewees was designed to represent a broad and diverse set of transportation interests and priorities. Interviewees were selected to represent:

  • Elected or appointed officials representing constituents within Athens-Clarke, Madison, and Oconee counties;

  • Heads of departments of planning, public transportation and/or community development from MACORTS member jurisdictions and the University of Georgia;

  • Business, tourism and economic interests including Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, Athens Convention and Visitors Bureau, Athens-Clarke County Economic and Development Foundation, and Athens Downtown Development Authority Board; and

  • Individuals representing a cross-section of opinion and perspectives in the community at large.

As a selective public involvement technique, the interviews were understandably not the most far-reaching public participation activity. Public transit forums and focus groups discussed later in this chapter, provided the opportunity for many more individuals and groups to participate and provide input into the development of the Athens TDP.


Interview Process
A team of two interviewers from the project team conducted telephone interviews between June 8 and June 28, 2005. Each interview lasted approximately an hour in length. Each interviewer posed questions and facilitated a discussion based on a standard list of interview questions.


  1. What is your impression of public transit service in Athens-Clarke County?

  2. What is your vision for public transit in the Athens-Clarke County region?

  3. What are the obstacles to achieving the vision? In other words, what do you think is working and what is not?

  4. Where should Athens Transit focus their attention – what should its priorities be?

  5. Currently, the Athens Transit System operates 17 fixed bus routes, from approximately 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., no Sunday service and no evening service…given that, how large should the system be?

  6. Who should transit serve – commuters, students, elderly and disabled, youth, others?

  7. What mix of services do you think is appropriate – local, express, circulator services?

  8. Do you see a need for expanded night service? More frequent service during the weekday? Saturday? Sunday?

  9. The most recent fiscal, ATS has a total budget of $3.945 million ($1.599 fare box, $.547 federal funds, $1.629 Athens-Clarke County General Fund, and $.17 other miscellaneous funds). Based on the current level of funding and service, what level of investment in necessary to achieve the transit vision for the region?

  10. How should transit system operations and expansion be funded?

Interviewers closed the session by explaining the remaining technical tasks and schedule of completion for the project.


Key Findings
Based on the input gathered from 13 stakeholder interviews, several key findings emerged concerning the public transportation vision, priorities, obstacles to success, and most important issues for ATS to consider in the development and implementation of the TDP. Complete stakeholder interview summaries are attached as Appendix B.



  • Impression of ATS

The overall impression of public transit provided by ATS was excellent. Stakeholders believe the service is clean and dependable with adequate coverage area and span of service given a system of its size.


  • Vision for Public Transit

Several stakeholders support expansion of ATS service into the evening and during the weekends to serve students as well as restaurant/club patrons and employees. Stakeholders appear interested in commencing a serious discussion about creating a regional transit system to serve the MACORTS area, including employment, commercial and growing residential areas in Oconee and other adjacent counties. Others mentioned the use of park and ride lots to minimize the need for parking decks in the downtown area.


  • Obstacles to Achieving the Vision

The primary obstacle to achieve the vision of expanded ATS service is funding. Stakeholders explained the limited recovery of revenue from the fare box coupled with low levels of federal funding and heavy reliance on the Athens-Clarke County general fund make it difficult to general increased funds for system operations and expansion. Other obstacles include the need for political consensus and cooperation to implement a regional transit system and to agree upon an equitable funding formula and service plan. Finally, stakeholders were concerned that the negative perception of transit, lack of marketing and advertising, and lack of convenience may be a barrier to ATS capturing new riders.


  • Recommended Priorities

Stakeholder recommended a number of key priorities for ATS to focus on over the next several years:

    • Extend service into the evening

    • Serve citizens at or below poverty level and aging population

    • Educate and market public transit

    • Improve public perception of transit

    • Seek funding from external sources

    • Provide service to Oconee residents

    • Expand transit modes to include trolley, commuter rail, circulators

    • Coordinate service with UGA

    • Implement employer subsidies for public transit use

    • Increase service frequency




  • System Size

Most stakeholders were reluctant to comment on the appropriate system size without detailed analysis and information; however, those who did comment agreed that without changing the service area and simply implementing evening service would result in a system 50% larger in terms of fleet size and budget.


  • Target Markets

In general, stakeholders believed that ATS should serve everyone who desires to use the system – commuters, students, elderly, disabled, youth and low-income populations.


  • Mix of Services

Local fixed route service was deemed most appropriate by stakeholders; however, there is an interest in exploring other transit options and amenities such as park and ride lots and commuter rail to Atlanta.


Stakeholders overwhelmingly agreed that there is a definite need for expanded night service.


  • Level of Investment

While stakeholders generally agreed that ATS requires more funding, very few were able to offer specific recommendations for the level of investment necessary to expand the system. Stakeholders did provide insight into key factors to be considered in the determination including the total number of UGA students enrolled per year and whether or not ATS will expand beyond the Athens-Clarke County boundaries.


  • Sources of Funding

Stakeholders recommended ATS pursue a wide variety of funding sources to accommodate system growth:

    • Fare Box

    • General Fund

    • Gas Tax

    • Sales Tax

    • SPLOST

    • Regional Tax District

    • Hotel/Motel Tax

    • State Funds

    • Federal Funds

    • Parking Decks and Meters

    • Property Tax

    • Private/Public Partnerships

The TDP stakeholder interviews were a tremendous learning opportunity and solidified the partnership between ATS and key individuals expected to participate in the regional transit planning process. The candid responses provided insight into the most important aspects of regional public transit. Specifically, stakeholders:



  • Desire a higher level of public transit service, especially evening and weekend service

  • Support increased funding and expansion of ATS service beyond the current service area

  • Recommend public education and marketing to increase transit use

  • Want increased access to downtown and suburban shopping centers via public transit

  • Believe all market segments should be served by transit, particularly students and those without other means of transportation


3.4 PUBLIC TRANSIT FORUMS

Overview

Two public transit forums were held in the months of February and July 2005. The meetings combined a variety of communications methods to facilitate open discussion and information sharing as well as obtain reactions to the Athens TDP data analysis and service recommendations:



  • First, the open house meeting format allowed the citizens to review maps, handouts and display boards at their leisure in a relaxed and informal atmosphere and hold one-on-one discussions with project team and ATS representatives.

  • Next, the project manager delivered a formal presentation that described the challenges, needs, goals, and service planning issues and concepts for the Athens TDP.

  • The last part of each forum was dedicated to a Question and Answer session. Each verbal and written public comment related to the TDP and transit in general was recorded, compiled and analyzed by the public involvement task leader.

  • Overall, the two-way dialogue generated by the public transit forums allowed citizens to voice their opinion of the Athens TDP and to enhance ATS’ understanding of community needs and expectations for public transit.

The public transit forums were promoted by an advertising campaign, including newspaper advertisements and notices on ATS buses to encourage attendance and participation at the meetings. At the meetings, citizens were asked to sign-in and were given an information packet that included the following materials: Athens TDP fact sheet, presentation slides and public comment forms and surveys. A summary of the results of the survey distributed at the first transit forum and general comments gathered at the second transit forum comprise the remainder of this section. Please see Appendix C for copies of the public meeting notice and information materials.



Transit Goals and Priorities

In the first section of the survey, participants were asked to rank a set of recommended goals and priorities for the Athens TDP on a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 is a “low” priority and 5 is a “high” priority. The project team collected the surveys and tallied the results. Goals relating to efficient use of ATS resources to expand public transit services are the highest level priorities. Consistent with key stakeholder comments, the goal to provide transit service to persons without transportation is the next priority. Goals focusing on service expansion and access to employment centers were identified as third level priorities. The Table 3-3 depicts the survey results.


Table 3-3

Recommended Transit Goals and Priorities

TIER


GOAL

RANK


Level One

Use resources efficiently and effectively

#1

Maximize revenue sources to expand transit services

#1

Level Two

Provide transit service for persons without transportation

#2

Level Three

Expand transit service for elderly and disabled

#3

Enhance public transit to major employers

#3

Level Four

Provide access to activity centers and event locations

#4

Provide transit service to adjacent counties

#5

Encourage Transit Oriented Development (TOD)

#6

Improve the image and awareness of public transit

#7



Ridership

In the second section of the survey, participants were asked three questions regarding their ATS ridership behavior.




  • How many trips have you made on Athens Transit in the last 30 days? The majority of respondents made 1-2 trips in the last 30 days on ATS (Table 3-4). Frequent riders, those making at least 8-10 trips per month, represented 17% of the respondents. The heaviest users, those making 40 trips per month, also represented 17% of the respondents.


Table 3-4

Number of Trips on ATS in Last 30 Days

Number of Trips


Percentage of Responses

0

17%

1-2

25%

3-4

17%

8-10

17%

20

8%

40+

17%




  • On what routes? Meeting participants made trips on the following routes in the last 30 days preceding the public transit forum: Route 1, Route 7, Route 8, Route 9, Route 15, Route 25, and Route 26.




  • Approximately how long have you been riding Athens Transit? The average number of years that meeting participants have been riding ATS is approximately 9 years.



Overall Satisfaction

The third section of the survey presented a series of questions designed to gauge overall satisfaction with ATS services. Participants were asked to rate a number of service characteristics on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 was “poor” and 5 was “excellent” (Figure 3-5).


ATS strengths include providing overall value for money and courteous, competent and helpful bus operators and staff. ATS is also viewed by the public as safe and secure, clean and not overcrowded. ATS performance begins to decline with respect to trip duration and connections, service frequency and convenience.

Table 3-5

Public Opinion on ATS Service Characteristics


Service Characteristic

Average Score

Good value for money

4.7

Courteous, competent, helpful bus operators/staff

4.7

Safety and security onboard bus

4.6

Vehicle cleanliness

4.3

Not overcrowded

4.3

Overall service

4.1

Adequate transit information onboard buses

4.0

Trip duration

3.6

Takes you where you want to go

3.3

Good connections between buses with reasonable wait time

3.2

Frequency of service

2.9



Demographics

The last section of the survey was designed to gather demographic information on transit forum participants including age, employment status, level of education, number of vehicles in household, income, gender and zip code.


In terms of a general profile, most forum participants were between the ages of 35 and 64, employed full time, obtained a graduate or postgraduate degree, owned at least one vehicle, and were above average to high income earners ($55,000 - $85,000).

General Comments

Public comments gathered at the second transit forum, revealed the following sentiments:



  • There is a positive impression of ATS service, especially the polite bus operators; however, citizens would like a longer span of service, more covered bus shelters and schedules at bus stops, more frequent and weekend service.

  • Sunday service is highly desirable, particularly for those with bicycles or no other form of transportation.




    1. MALL INTERCEPT SURVEYS

On August 9, 2005, members of the Athens TDP study team conducted intercept surveys at the Georgia Square Mall.


Objectives
The objectives of the intercept survey were to:

  • Determine the public attitudes and perceptions of Athens Public Transit by riders and non-riders of the system;

  • Determine frequency of transit use;

  • Determine drawbacks and incentives to increase transit use;

  • Identify marketing and communication strategies to capture target markets;

  • Gauge reactions to potential transit service changes and recommendations;

  • Determine underserved markets;

  • Determine importance of key transit service characteristics; and

  • Gather demographic information.


Methodology
A display table with Athens transit system information and give-aways (mugs, pens, and other small items) was arranged in the food court of the Georgia Square Mall from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. As customers entered the food court, study team members requested their participation in a brief survey regarding transit services in Athens-Clarke County. Participants in the survey were compensated with a $20 gift card to any mall store and two coupons for free one-way trips on the Athens Transit System. A goal of twenty participants was set for the intercept survey activity. A total of 12 participants agreed to share their thoughts and opinions.
Key Findings
Given the small sample size, the results of the intercept should be viewed as general guidance on community preferences and attitudes toward transit. Further technical analyses were used to validate the survey results and other public feedback prior to the development of final plan recommendations and service improvement options.
The following list represents key findings in each topic area of the survey:

  • All respondents were residents of Athens-Clarke County

  • 8 out of 12 respondents are best characterized as non-riders; 2 respondents were frequent users of Athens Transit on a daily basis for work trips

  • Non-riders viewed the biggest drawbacks of using public transportation as 1) lack of evening services, 2) lack of service coverage throughout the County, 3) lack of frequent service, and 4) perception of safety/security.

  • Half of the respondents drove alone to get to work or shopping; the primary reason for driving alone was convenience

  • Of those who drove alone, incentives to use transit included more frequent services, more accessible routes/convenience, transit service to adjacent counties, availability of carpool/vanpool options.

  • Less than half of the respondents perceived traffic congestion as an issue in Athens-Clarke County; of those who perceived an issue with congestion, travel time delays were between 10 and 30 minutes during peak commute times.

  • Suggestions for marketing and advertising Athens Transit system included route maps and schedules at public facilities such as Department of Family and Children’s Services, discounts for large groups and families, and radio promotions.

  • When presented with the recommended transit service improvements and changes, respondents overwhelmingly agreed with extended/evening service, more frequent service, and weekend service.

  • Additional origins, intermediate stops, and destinations included: Sandy Creek Park, Botanical Garden, Memorial Park, Madison County, City of Hull, Beechwood Shopping Center, Oconee Wal-Mart/Lexington Road, Butler’s Crossing, Winterville, and Old Commerce Highway/US441.

  • Respondents rated the following transit service characteristics as most important (listed in order of priority):

    • Frequency of Service

    • Routes Take Me Where I Want To Go (Convenience)

    • Driver Courtesy

    • Cleanliness of Vehicle

    • Safety/Security

    • Affordability of Fare

Please see Appendix D for a summary of verbatim comments from intercept survey participants.


3.6 CONCLUSION
With the employer survey, stakeholder interviews, public transit forums and mall intercept survey process complete, progress has been made, opinions have been heard and consensus has emerged. There is still much work to be done. It is essential that ATS continue to work closely with stakeholders to create a shared vision of transit for the region. The understanding generated by this open dialogue must strengthen and deepen as the implementation of the TDP unfolds over the course of the next five years. While the conceptual plan reflects the issues raised by the general public and key stakeholders, many challenges lay ahead regarding the funding and implementation of the TDP. Nonetheless, ATS remains firm in its commitment to public involvement and the promise to provide transportation choices for all Athens-Clarke County citizens.


Dovetail Consulting 3-



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