According to a recent study, Athens buses are among the most used in the U.S.
In the study, conducted by the National Transit Database, Athens-Clarke County placed fourth for the most-used transit system per capita, right behind the New York City and Newark, San Francisco and Oakland and Washington, D.C. areas.
The 2012 ACC population of 128,615 was used for the study — comparatively lower than the cities it ranks closely to — and had 99.5 trips per resident, only .1 trip lower than the Washington, D.C. data. And most of those rides are comprised of students at the University of Georgia.
“UGA is responsible for 87 percent of transit trips in Athens,” said Reuben Fischer-Baum, a writer for the news website Fivethirtyeight.com
The UGA Campus Transit System made 11,095,098 bus trips and 12,801 demand response trips in 2013, whereas the Athens Transit System made 1,687,812 trips and 7,688 demand response trips, Fischer-Baum said. He said this data, along with the data of 414 other urbanized areas with populations over 65,000, was compiled by the National Transit Database from 290 cities that reported to the NTD every month of 2013.
“We each report our ridership data to the National Transit Database. Those numbers are combined and interpreted by somebody in Washington,” said Ron Hamlin, UGA transit department head. “The University carries a lot of people. It’s very heavily used and convenient. We operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day during the regular school year, so it’s accessible and heavily used. Being a small to medium sized city, that ridership adds up on a per capita basis.”
But Athens was not the only college town that ranked high on the list.
Champaign, Illinois, home to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, ranked seventh, while Pennsylvania State University’s location of State College, Pennsylvania came in at a close eighth.
Some students at UGA view transit use in college towns as essential, especially when they have classes spread out on campus.
Brandan Cowan, a freshman business and accounting major from Winder, said the buses make it easy to get around campus.
“It helps people who aren’t right at the heart of campus or have classes on the other side get around campus easier than having to walk,” Cowan said.
With 11 different bus routes that run throughout the day and night on a regular basis with an approximately $8 million budget, Hamlin said students should expect nothing but convenience. He also said over $1 million of that $8 million budget pays Athens Transit, which allows students to ride for free on 28 different buses that go to many of the apartment complexes in the area.
Though the public transportation in Athens may not compare to large cities such as New York City, Fischer-Baum said it is impressive the Classic City could beat out sprawling metropolitan areas such as Boston and Chicago.
“Our system is not really considered big. We provide a level of services that makes it convenient for people to get around to their classes, car or dormitory,” Hamlin said. “We’re just trying to make it convenient.”