The audience cheered each new speaker who took the microphone at a pro-penny rally Wednesday in a public show of support for the beleaguered bus system and its most vulnerable riders.
It was “Dial-A-Ride Transit Appreciation Day” at the bus station in downtown Columbia, complete with sweet tea and powdered-sugar doughnuts. About 50 people joined the group, some using wheelchairs or crutches.
“Without public transportation, people are going to lose their jobs and, sadly, people are going to lose their independence,” said Kimberly Tissot with the Disability Action Center.
In his remarks, Ken Kirk with the Amalgamated Transit Union threw out the idea of a “riders union” to help the bus company plan improvements if voters approve the penny sales tax Nov. 6.
Some have criticized the board of directors because none of its members are bus riders.
Around the corner at the public library, Bob Schneider, director of the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, hosted an information session on the sales tax scheduled for voters who have been unable to attend at night: Buses stop running at 6:45 p.m.
There, rider Martha Thomas asked what would happen if the sales tax doesn’t pass.
Some of her family members say riders should fund the service without any help from taxpayers, she said. But the extra sales tax doesn’t seem like much to ask.
“I find pennies on the ground,” she said.
Over at the bus station, organizer Brett Bursey handed the microphone to rider Joe Tiller.
“This should be thought of as an investment, and not a tax,” Tiller said.
Charles Austin, once Columbia’s city manager and now the humanities dean at Benedict College, said he attended as the parent of a son who relies on the DART service. “The reality is we’re all one circumstance away from, ourselves, being dependent on public transportation,” he said.
The rally was sponsored by the S.C. Progressive Network.
A poster on the side of the building proclaimed, “It’s about democracy. It’s about justice. It’s about time.”
Rider Sean Henry said he has mixed feelings about the sales tax proposal but will probably vote for it.
Henry said with all the city-funded events and festivals, “You mean to tell me we can’t get a slice of that?” to provide bus service.
“You’re asking people who work, who have other obligations, to put out more money when we’re struggling just to keep a roof over our heads and provide for our families,” he said. “Where’s the leadership?”