The leadership of the Rome Transit Department has been marked by longevity over the years, a trait that Courtnay Williams Griffin hopes will continue.
Griffin was appointed to the post in June, succeeding Kathy Shealy, who had been with RTD for almost 50 years, the last 21 years as director. Griffin joined RTD as assistant director in 2021.
When she was elevated to the director’s post early in 2023, City Manager Sammy Rich said, “I think she’s going to do some excellent things as we look to reinvent ourselves as a transit agency.”
There aren’t many cities the size of Rome that operate a full-time bus service. The city took over bus service from Georgia Power decades ago. While it has never been a money-making endeavor, it is seen as an important service to the community.
Griffin started with the city in the Community Development office, where she spent six years. A large part of her job in that position involved writing grant applications, a position which certainly served her well when she transferred to the role of assistant director at RTD. “I did financial management, tracking grants – it was a good setup for communicating with federal agencies,” Griffin said. Federal government grants and annual appropriations from the city largely fund the Rome Transit Department.
Since Griffin has been with RTD, two of the most significant changes in the system have occurred. The first happened in 2019 when the city was ordered to stop its Tripper service. That was the name for how the city-run bus system provided transportation for school children.
Uncle Sam said the city could not provide that service anymore. Not long after that decision was rendered from Washington, the COVID pandemic kicked in, which cut ridership on the mainline and paratransit busses.
Part of the federal response to the COVID situation was increased funding, which allowed the city to operate the mainline fleet at no cost to riders. “We saw an 80% jump since COVID and about a 20% increase over our standard ridership,” Griffin said. How long the city can provide free service remains to be seen.
The next change occurred early in 2023 when the system brought on new Gillig buses along with a new logo and bright color scheme for the buses. “They are big, bright, and beautiful, and so we hope they stand out in the community so when you see them, you know it’s us, and you want to get on them,” Griffin said. The Gillig busses have more space, with different types of seating, which Griffin says makes them much more comfortable than the older fleet.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg because, as City Manager Sammy Rich remarked, changes are in the works for RTD moving forward.
“We’re looking forward to really beefing up our presence in the community,” Griffin said.” That could come in any number of forms. She said the leadership, starting under Shealy, has looked at how they can improve service. “We are looking at the routes, we are looking at how we provide services, what vehicles we use to provide services, so many cool things are coming,” Griffin said.
The number of bus routes has been trimmed significantly over the years, and one of the major objectives of Griffin is to trim the headway, the length of time it takes a bus to run its route. In fact, a proposal request is being written this summer and fall for a study examining the efficiencies of the existing six mainline routes.
There has been some talk about micro-transit, on-demand service, and other methods of meeting the transportation needs of Romans. Griffin has been excited about exploring all the different options for both serving the needs of Rome residents and reducing the cost of providing those services.