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County Council Approves Public Transportation Pilot Program

Daniel Prince

Several speak against the service at a public hearing

Union County Council had one major item on its agenda, and that was a resolution authorizing the county to submit an application and budget to the SC Department of Transportation to initiate a three-year pilot rural transit program. Senior Services, Inc. of Chester County, doing business as Chester County Connector, was selected through a competitive bidding process by the county to provide the service based on a demand response model.

At its June meeting, Union County Council committed to providing a 50% local match for the funding, with the other half of the money coming from the DOT, up to $150,000 a year for the three years. The resolution permits the Union County Supervisor to complete and submit the application to the DOT and to negotiate all final terms and conditions of the agreement with Chester County Connector and bring back a final draft of the agreement to Union County Council for final approval. The proposed service would start within a five-mile radius of the Union County Courthouse and then expand outward into the county as demand arises.

The rationale for that was also given in the June meeting, which was attended by Curtis Helms with SC DOT and Keith Scott, the former Director of Transportation for Anderson County. They said that demand often builds slowly, so that it can take 1.5 to 2 years to build to its full potential. They said by starting in a smaller area and ensuring that public transit is done well there, it gives them a chance to get the program going and then expand outward to other more rural areas of the county. Most of the county’s population will be within the five-mile radius, which extends as far south as the Mt. Vernon subdivision off the Whitmire Highway, as far west as the Fairwood II subdivision off Highway 49 West, as far north as the intersection of Hwy. 176 and Oak Grove Road, and as far east as Highway 49 East at Browns Creek Church Road. It would encompass the entire City of Union and Buffalo.

The lack of service to other rural areas of the county, particularly Lockhart, did not sit well with Helen McFalls, who is on the Lockhart Town Council. During the public hearing held prior to the meeting, she wanted to know why the entire county is paying for something that is mostly benefitting those in town. She said coming from Chester, it should be easy for the service to stop in Lockhart and pick folks up there. She stated she takes people from Lockhart to appointments and other places all the time, and the service is needed. Interim Supervisor Bob Love stated there will be flexibility in the plan, and as demand rises, the service can expand to meet the demand. He said with enough demand, they would set up the routes and come up with a fair rate.

Tom Bolek said he learned a lot about disability busing systems because of his son, who is blind. He said the county needs to have careful oversight of the company and build into the contract the ability to make common-sense adjustments as they go. He said a third party will tend to operate the system more efficiently because it is for-profit, but government providers tend to provide better service and access because it’s not their money but the taxpayers’ being spent.

Rodger Dowty also spoke, saying he didn’t see the need for this in the county, and that those needing the service should have family, friends, or churches that could help. He said he would rather see the county spend money that would affect the greatest number of people. In the end, council adopted the resolution on a unanimous vote.

We’ll have more from the meeting in tomorrow’s newscast.

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