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Have you ever thought
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How critical access to transportation can be?

When you have a car or truck at your disposal it is easy to overlook the challenge that face people without a means of transportation. Getting to work, shopping for food and getting to the doctor can all be real challenges. The challenge to our community is, how to deal with this need. Have you ever thought about the barriers created when you don’t have access to the transportation you need?

Back in June a group of leaders from local governments, the faith community and the educational community came together to discuss the transportation needs of our area, and look at possible answers to those needs. The group plans to get back together in the next few weeks to continue that journey.

One person at the gathering was the Georgia Piedmont Technical College’s dean of the Newton campus, Dr. Johnny Jones. He brings experience in working with community transportation systems in Mississippi and Nebraska. From his experience, he recommended that Newton/Covington should look toward developing a “hybrid” system. That is one that has an on-call system such as found in some neighboring systems and a limited amount of set routes that run on a set schedule.

Another leader in the effort to pursue the dreams of giving much needed help to those with transportation needs is Laurie Bertram, executive director of the Newton County Community Partnership. This is your local Georgia Family Connection Collaborative Organization.

She tells of one person involved in a program of recovery with one of our local resource courts. He had to walk everywhere he went. When he sat down and figured what that means, it meant he was walking 30 miles a day. What a difference the availability of transportation could mean in his life and people with similar needs.

One great example of a transportation system that effectively serves the community is found in Social Circle. For over ten years the City of Social Circle, according to Mayor Hal Dally, has offered a bus service that meets many of the basic needs of its citizens. The system is an on-call one that will pick up a client at their home and take them to a local grocery store, or to a doctor’s appointment, or even to Monroe to the hospital. And, of course, they are also on call to take the clients back home.

Though the population served is much smaller than Newton County’s population, it is an example of how an on call system works. The charge per trip is 50 cents. This help to pay the $130,000.00 budget item each year for the city.

The buses used in Social Circle meet all the GDOT requirements. They can handle those who handicapped. They have steps that make access easy. The city maintains a fleet of two buses to meet the needs of their citizens.

Another example of a nearby system is the one found in Morgan County. Though it serves a much smaller population than one would in Newton — 17,866 people in Morgan compared to 101,503 in Newton — we can still see some of the advantages of a system. Morgan has had a transportation system for more than 20 years.

The current transportation system in Morgan has five 15 passenger busses and operates five days a week, 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. As in Social Circle, it picks you up at home and takes you home. The cost is $1.25 in the city and $1.50 outside the city. There is not charge for seniors.

According to Mark Williams, the Transit Director of Morgan County, as of May 2016, about one third of the people using the system were taking the bus to work. What a tremendous economic impact this has for the one riding to work as well as to the community.

Again as in Social Circle, the buses are equipped to deal with persons with limited mobility and the drivers are trained to be of assistance as needed.

Because of the population of Newton/Covington, any request would fall in the urban category as opposed to the program in Morgan or Social Circle. But this does not mean anything similar to say a MARTA type program is being envisioned. Rather the goal is a financial feasible program that would meet the needs of our citizens.

The only ways we can successfully answer this need is if all our local governments are involved. Together we can help remove one barrier to the progress of our community. Transportation can be the key to matching workers with jobs. For seniors, the disabled, and others with special needs it can be the key to being able to live independently. It can have an economic impact as those that need to make essential purchases can get to the merchants that offer the services they need.

Have you ever thought, what none of us can do alone, we may able to do together. I salute those that have started the journey to find the answers to our transportation needs.