Mobility Management with a ‘Market Focus’

In the late 1990s, the completion of a Transit Development Plan (TDP) led Chatham Area Transit (CAT) leadership to conclude that the delivery of traditional transit services through conventional business practices was likely to fall short of meeting the needs of the city, county and region. As a result, an effort was begun to broadly redefine the mission, scope and organizational basis for transit service planning and delivery.

A common understanding of what was to evolve was a “mobility enterprise” that would expand its role beyond Chatham County to serve the four-county, two-state region surrounding the City of Savannah. An organizing committee including a wide spectrum of interests and organizations began an effort to seek necessary state enabling legislation from both the Georgia and South Carolina state houses. When this effort foundered for lack of interest in the state legislatures, the local Savannah hospitality industry set out on an alternative course of action. The impetus was the need to provide effective connections between downtown Savannah and the new International Trade and Convention Center across the river from downtown, a critical step in attracting major convention activity to the new facility and the Savannah area.

With a shared economic interest in serving the region’s growing tourist, visitor and convention markets, the hospitality industry and local officials began in 2002 to frame the idea of an independently managed set of transportation services for the convention and visitor market funded from surcharges levied by the city’s major hotels. From that beginning, a Mobility Management Plan was developed and adopted by the City in 2005 that aims to reduce parking and traffic congestion and increase the use of an expanded array of transit-related services targeted to these markets. In 2006, a Mobility Management Board (MMB) was created as a 501(c)6 organization for the purpose of implementing the Plan and its related programs, and full-time Administrator hired to manage the activities of the Board.

The MMB has an 11-member volunteer Board including representation from the City of Savannah, Chatham Area Transit (CAT), the Georgia International and Maritime Trade Center Authority, the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce, Savannah Area Convention and Visitors Bureau along with hospitality sector representatives. The efforts of the MMB as well as support for its varied programs and services is funded through an city-authorized ‘Per Occupied Room Fee’ (POR) of $1.00 per room per night ($1.75 for facilities on Hutchinson Island across the river from downtown) charged to visitors staying in the 29 hotels that have more than 25 rooms and located in the designated downtown Convention District. The room fee generated slightly more than $1.0 million in 2009 and is passed through by city ordinance to the MMB.

At the present time, CAT operates fixed-route services in portions of the county and supports contracted ADA paratransit services. Transportation is also provided to seniors by other multi-purpose human service organizations, some through a volunteer-based program. Services directed and managed through the MMB are focused on the downtown area and the visitor, tourist and convention market(s).

An integrated system of fare-free services under the MMBs direction includes: the three-boat Savannah Belles ferry fleet operating 17 hours per day serving three landing sites daily; express shuttles operated for the MMB by CAT using two 30-passenger vehicles operating on 20 minute frequencies; and, a seven-stop streetcar route using an 1930s Melbourne 54-passenger streetcar updated to hybrid propulsion. These services have been effectively branded as the “Downtown Transportation” or DOT system. These services are fully integrated with CATs shuttle services as well as the City’s parking facilities.

In addition, a “Mobility Frontline Training Program” is provided as a training/certification program to service industry representatives under the guidance of the Savannah Area Tourism Leadership Council (TLC), to assure that they are fully informed about the transit and travel options and operations and are able to guide visitors in their use. The training is delivered through the Savannah Technical College and underwritten by the MMB.

The MMB programs also include the Convention Transportation Fund (CTF) which provides funding to support the specific, special transportation-related expenses of large, qualifying conventions, and the funding to the Special Events Council (SEC) of the Savannah Convention and Visitors Bureau to promote and incubate new special events.

The success of the independent, non-profit MMB and its City and transit agency partners in the City of Savannah as well as somewhat parallel efforts in South Carolina has revived interest in the original concept of integrated services across the two states and four adjoining counties. Several efforts are currently underway on the larger regional scale through the region’s MPO, the Chatham County – Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission to examine strategies, policies, markets, service options and management alternatives for managing mobility, including a new regional “visioning” effort, a CORE Connections 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan whose initial step will be development of a Framework Mobility Plan, and an updated Coordinated Public Transit – Human Services Transportation Plan.

Contact Information:

Mr. W. Howard Helmken, Administrator
Savannah Mobility Management, Inc.
One International Drive
P.O. Box 248
Savannah, GA 31402-0248
912-447-4026 (t)
912-447-4711 (f)

Mr. Marc Friday, Chairman
Savannah Mobility Management, Inc.
General Manager, Planter’s Inn
29 Abercorn Street
Savannah, GA 31401

Mr. Bob Coffey, General Manager
Savannah International Trade and Convention Center
One International Drive
P.O. 248
Savannah, GA 31402-0248

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