While use of the 8-month-old Park and Ride complex on Oconee Street continues to lag, it has picked up substantially from when it first opened to the public.
Measured in semesters at the University of Georgia -- its students, staff and faculty are key demographics for the lot -- weekly ridership is five-times its spring semester debut. But five times 30, the average ridership during those months, is still only 150 riders per week.
"We're seeing some pick-up to it. It's not where we'd like it to be, but we're seeing some increase," Athens-Clarke County Transit Director Butch McDuffie said Friday.
The parking lot at Oconee Street and the Athens Perimeter originated in 2004 with a $2.4 million federal earmark from then-U.S. Rep. Max Burns. It went through several proposed locations before ending up on Oconee Street near ramps to the Athens Perimeter.
McDuffie lamented the eventual opening date of the lot, Jan. 17, as being after most UGA affiliates had already figured out their parking situation for the semester, essentially smashing any chance of success for the lot's early months. Still, McDuffie said changing people's transportation habits, and thus maximizing use of the lot, can take time.
"It usually takes a couple of years for a transit route to really establish itself," he said. "You can't just put something out and expect 100 percent capacity the first few months."
During the week, he said the lot is getting about 20 cars per day. At about 11:15 Friday morning, 13 cars were seen parked in the lot. It's not what they'd like to see -- there's 236 spaces and McDuffie said he'd like all of them filled up -- but it's the reality of today. He said he expects it to pick up once word-of-mouth spreads, particularly among students.
"You can park there for free, during the week of course, and with a valid UGA ID card, you can ride a bus down to campus in less than five minutes," he said, adding that traffic may affect that time.
To expand the use of the lot, Athens-Clarke County turns it over to Prestige Parking for home games of the UGA football team, McDuffie said, with prices fluctuating depending on the game. It was added to the existing contract the government had with Prestige to manage seven other lots the government owns on game days. Central Services Director David Fluck called it a "beneficial arrangement," since it keeps the lots monitored during tailgates and ensures they're cleaned up afterward.
The contract divvies parking revenues 70-30 in favor of the local government after Prestige is reimbursed for direct expenses related to managing the lots. In the case of the Park and Ride, the money collected by Athens-Clarke County goes to the transit department's budget.
For the first home game of the season, and the only one with statistics available Friday, more than 250 riders took advantage of the parking lot, 100 more than use it during an average week.
While the lot is open, McDuffie said improvements are still slated for it. Security cameras should be operational there soon, as well as an electronic kiosk for bus services.
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