New Columbia bus riders group aims to be heard

mlucas@thestate.comApril 3, 2013 

— If a newly formed bus riders group has its way, riders in the Midlands will have a greater say in decisions made regarding public transportation.

With at least 50 names collected and logged into a database – and members of the community and the transit authority’s board standing by – the Midlands Transit Riders Association held an official launch and press conference at the Sumter Street Transit Center on Wednesday.

The first of its kind in the Midlands, the grassroots group plans to take an active role in communicating with city and county leaders on what riders want – a key element that critics say has been missing on the 11-member board that governs the bus system. And the group plans to recruit others to join them.

“We want to convey what riders want and help them live out their daily lives,” said the group’s spokeswoman Brittany Higgins.

Higgins, who described herself as mildly disabled, became involved with the effort to organize a group after moving back to Columbia in 2011 – a move she made deliberately to take advantage of what she believed would be the area’s best source of public transportation.

“Sadly enough, that was when they began making cuts (to services),” said Higgins, who lives and works in Columbia.

But now that the penny sales tax has passed and funding for public transportation has been secured, riders are optimistic that some of their concerns will be addressed.

“This is the first step in moving Columbia forward to where public transportation should be,” said Virginia Sanders, co-chairwoman of the S.C. Progressive Network, the organization that was integral to getting the new riders group started.

Chief among the group’s top priorities, members said Wednesday, would be to have bus services such as later hours and Sunday services restored. One of the first actions the group will take is to compile results from a survey that members have distributed and present those findings to the transit authority’s board.

It’s a situation that transit authority executive director Bob Schneider said the board is pleased with.

“This is a partnership,” he said. “Here is an organization that is active, and it’s focused on riders.”

Schneider said a representative will be invited to sit on the transit authority’s service standards subcommittee. In addition, the group will provide feedback at each of the board’s monthly meetings and, when possible, a board member will attend the group’s weekly meetings, he said.

The group meets at 2 p.m. Wednesdays at the Modjeska Simkins House, at 2025 Marion St.

Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

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