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Sunday August 1st, 2021 9:55PM

Valdosta launches transit system after years of debate

By The Associated Press

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) — An on-call transit system has launched in a south Georgia city, ending nearly two decades of debates over whether the city should accept federal transit funding.

Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber said Valdosta On-Demand is a good middle ground.

“It’s unique in the fact that we’re not large enough to have that traditional public transit system that people usually think of, but we’re large enough that we need to provide some public transit service,” Barber told The Valdosta Daily Times.

The city hired contractor Via, which is using seven vehicles, including two that are accessible to people with disabilities. The vehicles are smaller than traditional buses and don't run on fixed routes, functioning more like taxis or ride-hailing services.

Residents can call the buses through a cellphone app or by phone. Every user will get 10 free rides through June. After that, fares will be $2 a trip, with the system operating 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Mayor Scott Matheson said demand was robust as soon as the service began at 6 a.m. Monday.

District 2 City Councilwoman Sandra Tooley said public transportation was one of her initial goals when elected to the city council in 2013.

“It took a few baby steps –- it took a lot learning -– to get there, but we’re here,” she said. “Right now with public transportation, I see the growth in Valdosta, I see other people having a little bit of hope.”

The system could add additional vehicles in the future depending on demand. Days and hours could also be expanded.

Valdosta has received and returned federal transit money every years since 2003. The question of whether the city should operate a transit system long featured in city politics, with opponents saying it's too costly and that there's not enough demand.

The city says the Federal Transit Administration will fund 80% of expected costs for Valdosta’s system, allocating $1.1 million.

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