What might have seemed far-fetched a decade ago will soon become a reality in Henry County: buses.
The south metro community, which for the past 10 years has been among the nation’s fastest-growing counties, will begin a soft launch this week of a trial bus route that leaders hope will be a hit among seniors and could lead to a more robust system. The official launch of the route is Monday.
“I’m very anxious to see how this works out,” said Commissioner Bruce Holmes, adding that he has spoken with several residents who are excited about the service, especially older residents.
Henry’s announcement Tuesday comes as communities across metro Atlanta have shown more willingness to embrace public transportation than in the past.
Atlanta and DeKalb went it alone in the 70s with MARTA — the region’s largest public transportation system — after Cobb and Gwinnett counties shunned adoption of the service, only years later to start bus systems of their own. That lack of connection among Atlanta’s biggest communities has been blamed, in part, for hobbling the metro area, which has became synonymous with gridlock.
In the last few years, however, the desire to solve the region’s traffic mess has opened the door for more cooperation. In 2014, Clayton residents agreed to raise their sales tax to join the MARTA system. And this year, Alpharetta Republican Senator Brandon Beach, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, is proposing to create a metrowide system in the 13 counties served by the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, including Henry.
Henry’s plans also come as the county — with a population today of about 220,000 — has seen explosive growth in the last 20 years from when it was a sleepy bedroom community to Atlanta. Atlanta Regional Commission projections say the county could add another 100,000 people in the next 25 years.
“As we all know, transportation is a necessary component and having various mobility options is quite ideal,” Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford said in a statement.
The new route, which will operate from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, will include nine stops between Stockbridge and the Fairview community on the county’s north side, said Henry spokeswoman Melissa Robinson.
The route will travel along the popular Ga. 138 shopping corridor, offering access to shopping centers that include WalMart, Publix and other retailers. Other destinations include the Fairview Recreation Center and Fairview Library in Stockbridge and the intersection of Panola and East Atlanta roads.
Initial fares for the 20-passenger buses — which are about half the size of an average MARTA bus — will be free as the county gets the service off the ground, Robinson said. What a normal fare will be and when collections will begin have not been released.
Henry Commissioner Blake Prince, who seemed pleased with the service, suggested the county consider a critical destination for seniors not on the route — Piedmont Henry Hospital.
“When you look at this, the function is to help some of the elderly get to the hospital,” he said. “I think that is probably pretty important.”
County manager Cheri Hobson-Matthews said leaders looked at four routes for the initial launch and chose one that did not include the hospital because it provided the best timing options.
“This is just our first pilot,” she said. “It is our hope that we will look at other areas in the county as well.”
For information on the bus route, including where to find stops and stop times, call Henry County Transit at 770-288-7433.
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