Opinion Extra

Op-ed: Comet seeks to improve mobility throughout Columbia

Buses loaded with technology hit the streets of Columbia

Columbia bus riders will have access to free WiFi, ports to charge their phones, security cameras to help keep the peace, as well as smoother and more reliable rides that run on time, officials say.
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Columbia bus riders will have access to free WiFi, ports to charge their phones, security cameras to help keep the peace, as well as smoother and more reliable rides that run on time, officials say.

While most of us are blessed with the ease and conveniences of mobility, thousands of our friends, neighbors and family are not. Whether that mobility is for work, health, food or the many other necessities and conveniences in life, it is crippling when taken away. Most importantly, The COMET is not a social service, it is a vital tool for transportation in Columbia’s future.

The COMET exists to help make sure no one is without any mobility.

Our core values are to ensure The COMET is safe, reliable, friendly, clean, comfortable and cost effective. Beyond that, The COMET needs to do more to be an effective leader in addressing mobility challenges for all demographic groups.

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In 2017, The COMET provided more than 2.5 million trips to citizens in the Midlands. That need will only increase as our population grows and ages, as there is ever growing congestion and limitations on parking and as a younger generation looks for more mobility options.

However, the Midlands is a large area to cover and the needs will always outstrip the resources. The geography demands that we be efficient in how we operate, creative in how we design the system and proactive in how we form partnerships and strategic alliances.

In the last year, we’ve:

Added more passenger amenities, including shelters, benches and bus stop seating

Added libraries on buses to promote literacy

Expanded the network of schedules to be available at more public locations including West Columbia, Cayce, Amazon, Nephron and Northeast Richland

Formed partnerships to allow all students, employees and faculty to ride The COMET services from Richland One and Richland Two, with Lexington Richland Five to join in the next school year

Helped connect low income residents in food-desert areas through partnerships with Lyft and Uber

Expanded night-time transit from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. in partnership with Lyft and Uber to help get people to and from night time jobs

Added police and sheriff protection to The COMET buses, bus stops and transit centers through random rides

Created door-to-door services in Denny Terrace and Hopkins

Built more bikeshare stations and allowed COMET users free access to bicycles

Created a COMET Academy to teach people on how to understand The COMET better

Started a vanpool program to connect people to jobs and combat congestion

There’s much more to come including implementing a transportation program to get seniors and persons with disabilities to quality of life activities. Starting this summer, we are studying a fare-free transit service for all, and if not feasible, pursuing subsidies for low-income residents to get reduced public transit fares.

We will be engaging the ridership to help us determine what is the best, most cost effective and efficient way to provide bus service in the Central Midlands. We are examining cleaner fueled vehicles and there is a plan to get 15% of the 1,430 bus stops to have a bus shelter in the next three to five years.

Public transportation is part of the solution to many problems — congestion, parking, traffic injuries and deaths, access to jobs and services, cleaner air and water — and it builds community in our diverse population. We hope to start engaging the Central Midlands more so that more and more people will continue to “Catch The COMET!”

Our website is full of information about The COMET available at www.TheCOMETSC.gov. You can reach me at (803) 255-7087 or via email to jandoh@TheCOMETSC.gov. My contact information is posted on all the buses.

John Andoh is executive director of The COMET.
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