Pilot bus route offers free rides to Northeast Richland residents

ccope@thestate.comJanuary 20, 2014 

The Midlands bus system is piloting a temporarily free route starting in February that will transport Northeast Richland residents in the area and connect them with three existing fixed routes.

The pilot route will expand the bus system’s current reach and provide transportation for more rural areas.

“Our route network was pretty much the same as it was in 1979,” said Bob Schneider, executive director of The COMET, formerly Central Midlands Regional Transit.

Northeast Richland was a prime target for a flexible, also called flex, route because it has a low-density population, said DaVeda Sistrunk, rural transportation planner for The COMET.

Those who want to ride can make a reservation by calling existing Dial--A-Ride Transit or DART line at (803) 255-7123, which is used by riders who have a disability. Flex route riders must call by 5 p.m. the day before they want to travel.

The system will use small, 13-passenger vehicles that also have space for four wheelchairs. The route will run from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

During the pilot program to gauge community interest from February to August, there will be no fare to passengers.

“It’s a pilot, we want to make it cheap and easy,” Schneider said.

If passengers transfer to another route, they would pay the $1.50 charge for service on the fixed route when they board one of those buses.

Dean Slade, of Eau Claire Cooperative Health Services, attended a community meeting at Meadowlake Park on Jan. 14 about the route.

Slade said because it’s flexible, the route will help provide transportation for patients who live in the Northeast Richland and need to get to north Columbia. “It’s going to help them in terms of getting access,” Slade said.

Another meeting is planned at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at Westwood High School.

“It’s important to reach out to the community before the route is launched so that we will have ridership that will sustain the services,” said Tiffany James, community outreach coordinator for The COMET.

Joanne Johnson lives on North Pines Road, off Interstate 77. She said in the past, she has gotten neighbors to drive her if her car breaks down and she also wants to ride the bus for environmental reasons.

Now she can use the flex route to transport her to the main bus system. “This is fantastic,” Johnson said.

Reach Cope at (803) 771-8657.

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