View the Annual Penny Report below:
The people of Richland County have trusted us with creating the transit system this community deserves and has needed for so long. To continue earning that trust, we are dedicated to being open and transparent about how YOUR PENNY is being spent. Here are just a few highlights of your penny at work.
The Penny Passes
Before the 2012 vote for the Penny, transit in the Midlands was in great financial difficulty, resulting in a 45% reduction in service hours, from 112,298 annualized hours* to 61,557 in May 2012. After the vote passed there was a supreme court challenge to the Penny based on the election process, which was thrown out of court in May 2013, and The COMET was finally free to begin planning around the regional transit authority’s first-ever dedicated funding. In May of 2013, one year after the cut, The COMET restored 24,000 hours of service.
In May 2013 the first revenues from the Penny started coming in and The COMET was able to add some much needed staff, growing from only four staff members to ten, including a travel trainer, community outreach coordinator, rural transit planner, and business development manager; an eleventh employee, a transit planner and manager, joined in January 2015. These five staff members—along with the project implementation specialist who was one of the four earlier employees— constituted the planning team that would plan, reorganize, and expand routes, add amenities, contract for services, and communicate with the public, universities, and employers in the Midlands.
The first post-Penny improvement was a small, rural project. Route 13 – NE Flex was added in February 2013 to bring residents of Richland County from an area roughly between I-77 and Fairfield/Winnsboro Roads, and I-20 and Turkey Farm Road, to fixed-route stops for routes 101, 30, and 23 (route 55x stops were included when that route was added. See below). This flex service is run in a DART paratransit van and is free within the zone, although passengers pay to board fixed-route buses at any connection point. The next service increase was to double the weekend service (the running tally is now 95,326 of annualized hours). The Sunday service peak had been 124 daily hours (compared to 240 Saturday hours) in March 2012. In May 2012 the 45% service cut had eliminated all Sunday service.
In May 2014, The COMET restored Sunday service by adding 100% of Saturday hours. Sunday service is now EXACTLY the same as Saturday service for the first time in the Midlands. The COMET at this point had weekday service and weekend service, which includes all routes except 17, 26, 28, 30, and 31. Our next service improvement came in August/September 2014. In addition to extending hours and increasing frequency we restructured several routes to include a loop around the downtown (on Sumter, Assembly, College, and Richland Streets) we call The Orbit. The idea behind the orbit is to connect people to employment centers and other destinations in the downtown without having to transfer, as well as to improve mobility within the downtown. When the Orbit is complete it will include all eight of the major corridors leading to downtown: Broad River, N. Main, Farrow, Two Notch, Taylor/Forest, Divine/Garners Ferry, Rosewood, and Shop/Bluff. This fall service change added the Orbit to routes 1, 4, and 20 and a significantly restructured route 3&8.
This process included beginning to rename routes with the main line Orbit routes getting three-digit numbers: Route 1 became the 101, 3&8 the 201, 20 the 401, and 4 the 601. As the process continues routes will be renamed and/or restructured as auxiliaries to the mainlines. We have already started: routes 62 and 63 are auxiliaries to 601, 42 to the 401. We did this to make some order out of the names the same way the interstates do (north-south routes in increments of 5: I-5 in the west to I-95 in the east; east-west routes in increments of 10: I-10 in Florida, I-20 in South Carolina, I-90 in New York; ring routes correspond to the principle route: I-285 circles I-85 in Atlanta, 495 circles 95 in Washington, D.C., etc.). Here is a bulleted list of the late summer 2014 service changes:
- Route 1 to 101: — midday and evening hourly service goes to 30 minutes all day, add the Orbit, extend to 10:00pm
- Route 3&8 to 201: — streamlined to stay on major roads (Rosewood, Garner’s Ferry), add the Orbit, hourly service goes to 30 minutes all day
- Route 4 to 601: — keep mostly on Shop Road, add Orbit, hourly service goes to 40 minutes all day.
- Add route 62 ReFlex (response flex): —to serve Alvin S. Glen detention center, Pineview/Italian-American way, Food Lion, and call ahead for lower Richland (south to Meeting House Road); operates 6:00am to 7:20pm
- Add route 63: — to serve Bluff Road and USC campus, 20-minute service M-F
- Route 15: — extend hours approx. to 11:00pm (end at transit center)
- Route 16: —extend hours approx. to 10:00pm (end at transit center), make midday hourly service 30 minutes (30 minutes all day)
- Route 20 to 401: — Restructure downtown portion to the Orbit, hourly service goes to 30 minutes all day
- Route 21 to 42: — restructure to cover parts of former route 8, eliminate route 20 redundancy
This added 28,000 annual hours of service (for a total of 122,965) to The COMET’s system and exceeded the previous annual peak of 113,288 by 9%. Thanks Penny! A few small additions were still to come in late 2014/early 2015. We added the 55x Express from the Transit Center to the Sandhills in November, replacing a service area that was entirely cut in the big service reduction. Then in January 2015 we added two non-downtown routes, the 88: Crosstown and the 22: Intown, and split the big route 11&12 loop created during the reduction into its component parts, routes 11 and 12. With these improvements The COMET is running 151,000 annual hours, almost 150% more service than at the agency’s lowest point.
Vehicles and Amenities
Those blue-and-silver bus stop signs were put up in 2002 but many were moved to power poles during the service cut because (a) the routes were changed as the RTA decreased service and (B) we did not have the money to hire a company to put in bus stop poles. Some things have changed. Besides having the Penny funding, The COMET has a new name and a highly visible brand that we want to see on our bus stop signs, all these tiny billboards we have all over town. ADA also now requires the routes servicing a stop be shown in three inch letters. So we put together a 40-member community design team made up of passengers, RTA board members, city and county representatives and other parties to workshop a new sign. We call them transit stops now and about half of them are up as of May 2015 (May is a big month for this agency!) with their own poles and complete with route info. Some of those signs will be standing next to shelters and benches soon. The COMET has ordered eight 8’ shelters, four 16’ shelters, five cart corrals, twenty bicycle racks, sixty benches (some of them going in the shelters), and seventy-five trash cans and will begin installing them soon. We also have a 16’ shelter and a 30’ shelter that will be installed at the Transit Center. With the Penny, The COMET was able to secure a propane fueling station and eleven propane-powered buses that burn clean and help us lower our fuel costs. We also have 21 DART vehicles on order and are about to procure up to eight new diesel buses. It is important to remember that much of the funding for vehicles, signs, shelters and other capital goods come from federal grants, which typically provide 80% of a project’s cost. Cash-strapped agencies often don’t have the 20% match for federal funding and lose out on tens or hundreds of thousand—or even millions—of generous federal dollars because they cannot pay their share. The Penny helps The COMET leverage as much as 400% percent federal funding for capital projects like vehicles and shelters. In other words those pennies become nickels.