More than 70 of Columbia’s public buses will be equipped with security cameras by late next year or early 2018, the director of the bus system said Thursday.
Bob Schneider said 39 new diesel-powered buses that are on order will have cameras, and 38 buses in the current fleet will be retrofitted with them.
All but 20 percent of the $500,000 camera budget will be paid for with federal funds, meaning $100,00 would come from local dollars, he said.
Schneider was summoned Thursday to a special called meeting by Columbia City Council to lay out how The Comet system is changing and to to let some riders air complaints.
The new buses begin arriving in the spring and the full complement is expected to be in service within a year after that, Schneider told council.
Of the 39 new buses, he said, eight will be small enough to handle routes in neighborhoods where large buses would be more intrusive.
The 31 large buses will replace the most worn-out ones in the fleet, but The Comet will end up with eight more large buses that could be used to add routes or supplement current ones, Schneider told The State newspaper after the meeting.
The price tag for the new buses adds up to just shy of $15 million, according to figures he provided.
Schneider also told council that with route changes, the number of bus trips has almost doubled since income from the transportation penny sales tax created a steady income stream for the bus system.
Some of the money has been used to add new routes into parts of Richland County that had been under served or not served at all as well as to improve service on weekends, he said. Buses pick up riders more often now, and the goal is to have a bus available every 30 minutes during peak times on key routes, he said.
“We are a much bigger system,” he said. “We have a much, much larger footprint.”
A half-dozen people had concerns about some of the new routes and other issues. But most of the complaints were about the eventual location of a bus transit center that is now at Sumter and Laurel streets in the city center.
Rumors are circulating that the center might be moved to the Waverly or Belvedere neighborhoods, residents said. Those neighborhoods don’t want the hub, they said.
Schneider said construction of a transit center is the most challenging part of improving bus service, and it typically takes seven to 10 years to build. There will be many public meetings on alternate sites before a decision is made, he said.