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Driving force

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Gadsden Express provides affordable, reliable transportation

By Alice Du Pont

Terbie Billups is a nursing student at Tallahassee Community College. She lives in the St. Hebron Community about five miles from the Quincy city limits. She is a young woman who has a bright future, but she has not reliable means of transportation.

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Billups and others like her in Gadsden County need to go to Tallahassee often, but without a car, getting there is daunting and unpredictable at best.

Gadsden Express to the rescue.

The Board County Board of Commissioners recently renewed the contract to continue the service for the next two years. The service is so popular and in such demand that county commissioners plan to consider adding more funds so the service can be expanded to each of the six municipalities. The subject will be up for in-depth discussion during the 2013-14 budget workshops.

That was good news to the riders on the April 1.

Some people ride the Express to work or school daily, while others use it when the need arises.

Wallace Reddick, a Gadsden County resident who lives in Tallahassee, has been riding the bus for the past three months.

“My truck broke down months ago, and I haven’t been able to get it fixed. I have to come to Quincy once a month to see the doctor, so it’s convenient and you can’t beat the price,” he said.

Reddick, who has an apartment a short walk from TCC, said the shuttle service is perfect for him. Monday, he boarded the bus and came to Quincy to visit his 106-year-old aunt who recently had a birthday. Reddick’s brother picked him up at 12:30 p.m. from the Winn-Dixie pick-up point, and the two rode to River Chase Care Center to bring their relative a catfish dinner.

“It worked out fine for me because I could spend the afternoon with her and catch the bus back to TCC but when I found out it was only a dollar, I jumped on it,” Reddick said.

The same holds true for Priscilla Pride. Her sister drops her off at the pickup point and she rides to Tallahassee to visit with her brother for three or four days.

“I just go over to his apartment and hang out. It’s something to do and gets me away from home for a little while. Plus, the one dollar price can’t be beat,” she said.

The service, which is a partnership between the county, Star Metro, Commuter Services of North Florida and the Florida Department of Transportation, costs the county about $100,000 per year. Big Bend Transit is the provider, and the service has proven to be beneficial to everyone involved, especially the riders. The service operates Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. There are three trips daily each way with stops in Midway and TCC before the last stop at the C.K. Steele Plaza in downtown Tallahassee where riders can take Star Metro to their final destination.
Evelyn House doesn’t mind the minor inconvenience for the savings.

“It’s on time, the drivers are courteous, the ride is smooth and where else could I go to Tallahassee for a dollar each way?” she asked

Deborah Smith, who lives in the Sycamore Community and hasn’t had a car since she moved to Gadsden County from Miami in 2006, agreed.

“If you get a ride with someone, they’re going to charge you at least $20. I get up at 4 a.m. to get the Big Bend Transit bus to town and I get the Express at 8 a.m. I ride Monday through Thursday, but with gas prices the way they are now, it’s still cheaper than driving you own car,” she said.

While gas prices have taken a dip in recent weeks, unleaded gasoline prices ranged from $3.59 to $3.65 per gallon in Gadsden and Leon counties. Smith said the bus is so comfortable and the ride is so smooth, she uses the hour ride to and from Tallahassee to take a nap.

Sometimes, however, especially in the fall and winter, the bus is filled to capacity. The hand safety handles are a reminder that some riders are forced to stand.

And, riders say their never worry about their safety. Sometimes, younger people have excited conversation that may be loud, but there’s never been any trouble.

Robert Brown, who has been driving the Express since October 2012 said his day starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends at 7:30 p.m.

“It’s makes for a long day, but the people are nice and cooperative. If I have to ask someone to use their headphones, it’s no problem,” he said.

Riders like Tremaine Miller and Chris Breedlove ride to the pickup point, strap their bicycles to the front of the Express and have transportation when they get to Tallahassee.

While they are grateful for the service, most want to expand to include Saturdays.

“I would like to use it on weekends to take my kids to Tallahassee for other activities. I’m stuck in St. Hebron all weekend with nothing to do,” said Billups.

While some riders say they want the county commissioners to know that the service is great, they also want them to know they favor expanding the service.