GA: Sams discusses public transportation possibilities

Feb. 8, 2024
Step one, she said, is a study demonstrating an actual need and demand for such services in the community.

Feb. 7—Annalee Harlan Sams, the mayor of Dalton, addressed the future of public transportation in the city at a Mack Gaston Community Center presentation on Jan. 30.

Step one, she said, is a study demonstrating an actual need and demand for such services in the community.

"To this point, we have not seen any such study," Sams said at a Greater Dalton Young Professionals and United Way of Northwest Georgia Young Leaders Society event. "We have, however, seen where there's eligible, there's matching dollars that we've looked at, for van service where it's point to point — it's not like someone running a route, it's pre-scheduled and it's been successful in South Georgia."

Running the numbers, Sams said such a service would require a roughly $1 million upfront investment from the city.

"In the list of things that need allocated a million here, a million there, we'll tell you it didn't score very high," she said. "But council member Steve Farrow was very attracted to, as I recall, in wanting to look further into that."

Sams noted that the Whitfield County government does provide some transportation services within the city.

Additional public transportation options, she said, will continue to be evaluated by the local government.

"If you want to get someone to an answer that supports what you have an agenda to do, there are vendors that will make all of the numbers look that way for you, that's true in anything," she said. "But objectively looking at communities that can get public funding — that can get federal money — is usually one of the best measured ways to say we qualify, is let someone else say you qualify to such a degree that we want to help you and we all see that you meet the need."

Historically, Sams said the low ridership numbers for the county transportation service has been a stumbling block for expansion within the city.

"Right there, it usually gets squashed," she said, "because that's just not enough people to qualify that this would be a taxpayer-funded project."

Sams brought up the success of a Kansas City public transportation project, which she said was not driven simply by socioeconomic metrics.

"I know that our whole city team is interested in looking at this," she said. "But to date, the one thing that's made it down the line the farthest is matching money for a van ridership ... and I'm not sure that's very different than what we already have through the county."

Issues surrounding duplication of services, she continued, would also complicate any immediate plans for a new public transportation offering.

"If we want to do that, we need to get all of our tax dollars back and say 'Well, you're not providing us this anymore, so we're going to take some of the money back for that, and we're going to use it differently than how you were using it,'" she said.

Moving forward, Sams said it's important to distinguish the targeted user base for any subsequent services — i.e., specific services for one-car or no-car families and more general services as a convenience for the totality of the community.

"Two different customer groups," she said. "So you need to make sure that the study would look at both."

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