Columbia bus riders pitch ideas on transit

mlucas@thestate.comNovember 30, 2012 

COLUMBIA, SC WEDNESDAY, JULY 22, 2008 ERIK CAMPOS---Bus riders use the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority to ride home from work during the afternoon commute on Wed. July 22, 2008. Richland County Council recently voted against a plan that would have funded the city bus system for eight years — a move that could cost the struggling system all of its federal funding and bring buses to a halt by June. Erik Campos/ecampos@thestate.com

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— Riders from across the Midlands voiced their wishes for improved bus service at a drop-in Thursday at the Sumter Street transit center in downtown Columbia.

The Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority held the event to get feedback from riders and others interested in learning how the recently passed penny-on-the-dollar sales tax could enhance transportation services.

Part of the money from the sales tax, passed Nov. 6, would be used to improve bus service while other funds would go toward improving Richland County roads and pedestrian pathways.

CMRTA staff members and at least two board members were on hand Thursday fielding questions and encouraging riders to leave their thoughts in suggestion boxes.

A list of proposed improvements also were posted and distributed in a brochure at the transit center. Many of the proposed services would restore cuts made earlier in the year, though the transit authority’s executive director Bob Schneider said the earliest those changes would go into effect likely would be the end of next summer.

However, Schneider and board member Lill Mood said the transit authority might look at the possibility of making some immediate improvements for the first half of 2013 in order to “fill the gap.”

“As quick as we can, we want to try and get our customers better service,” Schneider said. “But this is truly the first step in that process.”

Schneider said other public forums would follow.

Thursday’s rollout of what restored bus service could look like included the return of midday service and additional evening hours on many routes — something many riders stopping by information tables Thursday were glad to see.

Schneider told attendees that while the improvements could take some time, expanded evening and midday hours as well as frequency of routes would be the priority.

Columbia resident David Middleton was pleased to hear his route, which takes him to class at Allen University, would offer bus service every half hour as opposed to hourly, during peak times.

“I’m pretty satisfied,” Middleton said.

Martha Thomas, another Columbia resident, was happy about the improvements as well. Thomas uses at least four routes to get back and forth to work, doctor’s appointments, shopping and the mall.

“I’m glad the 1 percent passed,” she said. “I know it’s not going to come back overnight, but we needed it.”

However, at least one resident voiced some discontent.

Ina Tyler, a Cayce resident, said while she was happy Richland County passed the penny sales tax, she’d like to see increased services in Lexington County. Currently, there are only two routes that service Cayce and parts of that county.

Tyler said that leaves out a lot of people who would travel to Lexington for jobs or to purchase goods and services.

“Lexington County now needs to step up,” she said.

Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

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