Macon’s ‘cheapest ride in town’ is about to get more expensive


Liz Fabian | The Macon Newsroom

A Macon Transit Authority bus arrives at Terminal Station.

Barring public outcry, the cost of riding a bus in Macon will go up by 50 cents in the coming months.

Bus fare in Macon costs $1.25, a fee unchanged in 15 years. The Macon Transit Authority Board unanimously voted Tuesday night to increase the fare to $1.75. Board member Lynn Farmer was absent.

MTA is required to advertise the fare increase after it votes to approve it. The advertisement serves as public notice and also offers the public a 15-day window of opportunity to request a public hearing.

The hearing, though, is “basically a listening session,” since the board already approved the increase, MTA CEO Craig Ross said.

“It’s almost like the cart comes before the horse when you deal with state or federal government,” he said. “It’s not a common sense type thing sometimes.”

When it takes effect, the $1.75 fare will include one free transfer and a second transfer at a cost of 25 cents instead of 50 cents. The price of paratransit will increase from $2.50 to $3.50.

The fare hike is, in essence, imminent, but “if there’s 500 people down there and they’re making noise, we might reconsider,” Ross said. “We’re still going to be the cheapest ride in town.”

Ross said he has long told riders to expect a fare hike at some point.

The process the MTA board takes to implement fare increases differs from how most governmental entities go about changing rates that affect taxpayers. No public hearings are required and there is no requirement for public notice before the vote.

MTA is a state authority established by the Georgia legislature in 1981. It is governed by a different set of rules because it receives grant money from the Federal Transit Administration via the Georgia Department of Transportation.

In contrast, when school boards and county commissions change property tax rates, each is first required to vote on a tentative rate then advertise it in the legal organ for two weeks. A few public hearings are required to occur before another meeting in which a final vote is taken to implement it.

Should anyone call to request a hearing, MTA would have to advertise another public notice about it in The Telegraph, starting the clock on another 15-day period.

The cost of bus fare in Macon has gradually increased over a 40-year period, according to Telegraph archives. In 1981, the bus fare increased from 35 cents to 50 cents; In 1992, bus fare increased from 50 cents to 75 cents; In 2003, the fare increased from 75 cents to $1; In 2008, the fare increased from $1 to $1.25.

The authority is not in dire financial straits. In fact, a financial report approved at Tuesday’s meeting showed ridership and bus fare revenue are up compared to last fiscal year.

The 40% increase to the cost of bus fare will help MTA shoulder the growing cost of gasoline, bus parts, cost-of-living and performance raises for employees, Ross said.

Board Chairperson Louis Tompkins said the increased fare will help pay for technology that will improve the experience for riders.

The board discussed a possible future contract with TripSpark, an Ohio-based company that sells technology that would allow bus riders the ability to track locations of buses in real time using a smartphone.

Even so, Tomkins said, “a majority of our riders are low-income riders and people without access to a vehicle.”

“It’s the totality of the operation that we’re looking at in consideration of our clients that we’re serving to provide them with the best possible service and give them a bang for their buck,” he said. “But the essence of being compassionate for those same folks that I am a part of providing a service for is very important to me.”

When it comes to changing the cost of bus fare, the Federal Transit Authority has less stringent rules for agencies like MTA that serve fewer than 200,000 people. Federal rules require larger transportation agencies to complete a service and fare equity analysis to ensure those changes will not disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations.

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, call 478-301-5777 or email [email protected].