Xpress service to Atlanta kicks off

By Kevin Liles

The new Xpress commuter bus system made travel a breeze for several people Monday, though it still has a few kinks to work out.

"Overall, it went smoothly," said William Mecke, manager of external affairs for the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. "But there are some little things to work out, like people not being familiar with riding coaches."

Xpress, which is managed by GRTA, began two routes Monday; one that starts at Atlanta Motor Speedway and another in Conyers. Both end in downtown Atlanta.

The system is one of the first steps of the Atlanta Regional Commission's project, Mobility 2030. It is a 25-year, $50 billion transportation plan for metro Atlanta.

GRTA has purchased 48 plush, air-conditioned buses for Xpress, 10 of which are being used for the Clayton/Henry and Conyers lines. The buses also have electrical plug-ins for laptops and overhead reading lamps.

"They're like Greyhounds without the bathrooms," Mecke said.

Lynn Tew was one passenger who rode Xpress from the Harold R. Banke Justice Center in Jonesboro to Atlanta.

"I've been waiting for this," said Tew, who works in downtown. "I can't deal with the congestion of Atlanta. I had to change my work hours to avoid it."

But saving money on gasoline is another incentive for Tew.

"If (Xpress) leaves the prices where they are, I'll keep doing it," she said. "The way gas prices are these days, it's worth it."

Tickets are $3 for one-way; $5 for round-trip; $45 for 20 trips; and $80 for a 31-day ticket. Free bus-to-rail transfers are available for those who want MARTA once in Atlanta.

Travel from Atlanta Motor Speedway to McGill MARTA station takes about hour, though several buses were running behind schedule Monday. Another problem was a misplaced sign in downtown advertising for an Xpress bus stop.

Mecke said there Xpress will eventually grow to 27 routes in 11 counties in the next three years.

Burke and Liana Sisco of Hampton couldn't be happier about Xpress. The married couple has been pushing for transit in Hampton and other small communities in Metro Atlanta for several years.

"This is a great first step," said Liana, who has two children and works in Jonesboro. "This is a great alternative choice. Some people will always drive their car, but I like having the choice."

Sisco said she likes public transit because it cuts down on pollution, something that made her sick while living in north Atlanta.

"As long as there are commuter rails and nice buses like these, we won't have to contribute to pollution," she said.