However we pay for it, we all need a better transit system

Editorial Page Editor

On Wednesday, my truck was in the shop. This sort of situation may mean slightly different things to different people. Here’s what it meant to me:

Wednesday morning, I needed a way to get from home — out west of West Columbia — to work, if for no other reason than I needed the paycheck to pay for getting my truck fixed.

Fortunately, my eldest daughter was staying at our house with her children — her husband is remodeling their home — and she works downtown. So she drove me way south of downtown to my office, before turning around and going back to her office.

(My wife couldn’t take me because she had my daughter’s six-month-old twins, and her car isn’t set up to accommodate the Apollo-capsule-type arrangements that they call baby carseats these days.)

From that point, I was stuck. I knew I was going to have to stay late at the office that night — later than anyone in my department — because I was going to be off Friday and needed to get at least a week’s worth of work done in the four days available. Besides, no one in my department lives anywhere near me. In fact, I started writing this column on Wednesday to get ahead, and as I typed this sentence at 5:23 p.m., I had no idea how I’d get home.

As it happened, my daughter got me at 8 p.m. Fortunately, she and her children had to go back into town anyway; otherwise picking me up would have involved a long round trip for somebody, with gasoline at $4 a gallon. I wasn’t quite at a stopping place when she arrived, so she waited downstairs for me with, as near as I could tell over her cell phone, at least one of the twins screaming.

Then, on Thursday morning, my truck still wasn’t ready. So we improvised a whole new plan, in which I drove my wife’s car into town, and my daughter left work at midday to take her car out to my wife so that she could go to work in the afternoon. But at least I was covered in case the job required me to be somewhere else in the course of the day, which sometimes happens.

This is ridiculous, folks.

Yes, I know: Poor me. These are decidedly spoiled American, middle-class problems.

But never mind me. The truth is, if you are less fortunate, you have a harder time owning a vehicle, fixing it when it’s broken, filling it with gasoline, or paying to park it. Nor can you afford to do without that job that the vehicle would take you to.

There are many places in this country where folks don’t have these problems. I have a New York subway card in my wallet from my last trip there, which I can’t bring myself to throw away because of the wonderful thing it represents: freedom from driving and pumping gas and finding a place to park, simply ducking down a few steps, and moments later finding myself in whatever part of town that I need to be in.

In the Columbia metropolitan area, we have our own sort of mass transit system, in theory. But it isn’t fully adequate to anyone’s needs. It doesn’t go from enough places to enough places often enough, and it’s tough for someone who just needs it occasionally to find out quickly and easily how to use it.

What we need is a better transit system, but what we’re in danger of having now is a worse one, or none at all. That’s because Richland County — the one local government that’s done the most to step up to the challenge of funding said system — is going to stop stepping up in October. That’s when the vehicle tax the county levied for that purpose runs out.

Last week, the County Council ditched a plan to hold a referendum asking voters to approve a 1-cent sales tax increase to fund the buses and other transportation needs and wants. I don’t blame the council. As we said in an editorial before the action, the Legislature has jacked up our sales taxes too high already. And besides, some of the things in that transportation proposal were more wants than needs, and only in there to get people who don’t ride buses to back the proposal.

No one knows where we go from here. The County Council doesn’t know. The citizens group that put together the plan the council rejected doesn’t know.

And just in case we got the notion that the city of Columbia would be taking up the slack, I got a preemptive call from Mayor Bob Coble Thursday morning to tell me that the options range from few to none. (While the mayor didn’t say so, that’s largely thanks to the Legislature’s tireless efforts to make sure local governments can’t pay for any local need that they aren’t paying for already.)

About the only person offering new ideas last week was regular contributor “bud” on my blog, who suggested using the city’s and county’s shares of the “hospitality tax,” a lot of which currently goes for things a whole lot less essential than a mass transit system.

As I write this, I don’t know what the best way to pay for a better transit system might be. What I do know is that Midlands governments need to find a way, for the sake of:

  • Those who have no other way to get to work now.
  • Those of us who would like a better way to work than we have now (and sometimes need one).
  • Those “knowledge workers” who are supposed to make the planned Innovista work, and who have the option of working instead in a community where it’s easier, and cheaper, and cleaner to get around.

For more, visit my blog at

120 thoughts on “However we pay for it, we all need a better transit system

  1. Doug Ross

    First, we need to know how many people are actually impacted by this. Realistically, its only people who live AND work within a ten mile radius of downtown Columbia AND have an interest in trading in the flexibility that a personal car provides for a government subsidized transportation system AND can get to a place to board a bus easily.
    I don’t think the numbers are large enough to justify the cost or to reap any meaningful benefit.
    This is a solution in search of a problem.
    Columbia is not New York City, Washington, DC, or Chicago. And I hope it doesn’t turn into any of them.

  2. MAC

    if it can’t support itself without money from my billfold then let it die…..i’m sick to death of seeing the bus from MRTA at Hardee’s in Newberry every morning picking up people and transporting them to Columbia every day for a few bucks a week, while i go to the pump and pay almost $4.00 a gallon for gas to get to work…..Brad, why don’t you talk The State editors into getting an investigative reporter to do a story on this boondoggle and report back to your readers just how much this is costing the taxpayers per mile/rider……and don’t just cover the cost of the bus and gas and driver, figure in everything, including administrative fees and salaries.

  3. george

    mac ae you upset because you don’t have a job in Columbia so you can take advantage of the bus “bargain”? i am sure you would not be discriminated against if you chose to commute an hour plus each way via bus rather than use your personal transportation to work in newberry.

  4. Lee Muller

    Only those who ride the busses need the busses. Let them pay for it, the full fare. Then, if they really want it they will pay what it is worth to them, and there are enough who really want it, a private bus business can make a profit.
    Indirect benefits cannot be measured.
    The market reflects real benefits, and the value to those benefitting directly.

  5. Mike Montgomery

    If we took that attitude, we could put up a toll booth on every road too — since those roads were built with tax dollars. This debate needs to avoid the jingoism and deal with the facts.
    1. The reason that we all see buses running through town that are not full is because the system wasn’t designed by SCANA to be effective. It was a loss leader for them — so they didn’t want people to ride it.
    2. SCANA then took the City of Columbia and other government agencies “for a ride” when it divested itself of the system for pennies on the dollar of its future franchise liability for operations.
    3. The CMRTA plan was not financially viable from the start — if the goal is to have a meaningful, workable system. A great deal of study has been done nationwide on the difference in viability and economic impact of a “system of last resort” — which is what we have and a functional system. In order to make our region’s the latter, as opposed to the former, we need more frequency of service and better routes. The idea is that someone should be able to navigate the system with minimal inconvenience. Right now, that isn’t possible. That requires some infrastructure — as described in the study done for County Council.
    4. Having a good system will help reduce the number of vehicles on the road, improve air quality and limit the need for further road improvements as well as downtown parking. It will also help poor and disabled folks get to work and school — all which will have a positive benefit to our regional economy.
    5. If the area isn’t a desirable place to live — it won’t be in demand — and while that will slow growth and the need for some infrastructure — it will also lower the property values of most or all of the homeowners’ in the area — certainly not a desirable result.
    6. Funding will always be a problem. Right now, we have no state highway dollars to repair our roads, much less any real money to modernize and improve a woefully inadequate system.
    7. It is called public transportation for a reason — it is for the public and paid for by the public — like public highways, public schools, public parks. The idea is that some services are inherently desirable but not prone to private provision — either because of capital or other requirements. The public needs and benefits them, therefore the public pays for a part of them.
    8. It is frustrating that folks constantly want (and demand, request, solicit) additional government services — but look completely differently at the need for those services when their own self interest isn’t served. The folks depending on that transit are paying sales taxes too. The problem locally is that State government abrogates responsibilities, then blames the local government entities when they either get complaints or when limited sources of revenue are used to pay for those services and people complain of taxes.
    9. I think that everyone who wants to eliminate the bus system or expresses a lack of sympathy for the “working poor” who often use it, should consider the impact of those “working poor” becoming unemployed. They can only be replaced by people who can afford to purchase, insure and maintain a vehicle. Additionally, those now unemployed people will be in need of services that are paid for by the taxpayer — food stamps, medical care, etc. All at a tax cost to us.
    You may take the expense out of one pocket and merely transfer it to another.
    10. This is a complex issue — go to:
    download the study and take a look at a better picture of the problem and the options.
    Have fun.

  6. Lee Muller

    Public roads have a very broad tax base of fuel taxes on the actual drivers. They could be, and are, built and operated as profit-making businesses. The primary reason for them being public is that most are old foot trade routes, which truly were public land.
    Busses in many small cities, are money losers because they lack customers. What reason is there for 500,000 non-users to subidize 5,000 users who don’t want to pay high fare prices necessary to run empty busses?
    I used to ride the bus to work and college a lot when SCANA ran it. The busses ran on time, the schedules made sense, they were fairly clean, and the passengers were not hobos. The same politics of pandering to bums that killed downtown, also killed busses.
    The only busses I see working now are those running short hops for free, through campuses like USC, Clemson and UNC.

  7. Lee Muller

    There is a big difference between public property, like a highway or park, and a socialist enterprise, like a bus system or medical clinic, which is just a bad investment in something businessmen chose to avoid. The use of the word “public” seems to confuse a lot of people, probably because their public education failed to teach them civics.

  8. Lee Muller

    If the politicians and their media apologists want to blow money on busses, let them cut another program.
    There are plenty of bread-and-circus projects to abolish, like the recreation fields on Sumter Highway, Riverwalk, the Kayak Center, remodeling Township Theater, etc.
    Any idiot can raise taxes. Let’s see some management, budgets and cost control for a change.

  9. Herb Brasher

    Bloomington, Indiana has a great bus system, and I.U. students ride on it free. Lots of 4-way intersections that discourage private vehicles, too.
    Well, Columbia is larger than Bloomington, but still–why can’t USC offer free bus rides for students in the metropolitan area? Universities are supposedly leaders in innovation, and students are supposedly interested in the environment. I’m admittedly naive on how local government works, but why can’t we let USC pave the way with funding on mass transit, and then others can kick in?

  10. Herb Brasher

    “4-way intersections” — well I guess there lots of those. What I meant was 4-way stops.

  11. Karen McLeod

    Many of those people who are riding those busses are riding to jobs that we want done, but don’t particularly want to do ourselves (consider the workers in nursing homes, and other low paying jobs). If they can’t get there, because of lack of transportation, then those jobs don’t get done. And those people become part of the jobless, and shortly, the homeless problem. If busses don’t come frequently, or on time, and don’t go where people want to go, of course they won’t be used! The more they are used the less they have to be subsidized.

  12. JJ

    Since the consensus seems to be against providing public support for transportation, I would like to propose the following:
    1) Eliminate gas and property taxes used to pave and maintain roads. All roads and highways should instead be privately maintained toll roads.
    2) The Richland County Public Library system should be abolished. Individuals can instead purchase books from retailers like Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and Amazon at the normal retail price.
    3) The Richland County Sheriff’s Department, EMS and Fire Department should be paid for on a per-call basis, based on the actual cost of responding to the emergency.
    4) Public education should be abolished. That’s what private schools are for.
    5) All public parks and community facilities should be sold to the highest bidder. If you want your kids to play a sport, hop in your car, pay the tolls, and drive them to the Plex.
    In all seriousness, the fact of the matter is that none of these public services are profit making ventures. Like public transit, each of these services is an essential element in a safe, vibrant and compassionate community.
    I thank councilman Montgomery for his leadership on this issue. Its a sad day when a five member minority can thwart an issue as big as this, without even giving the citizens they represent a chance to vote.

  13. Doug Ross

    If downtown businesses see the value of having a bus system for employees, let them subsidize it.
    I have just read through the document Mike Montgomery referenced (Richland On The Move). Comments below:
    1) Too much discussion of bikeways and greenways. This is Columbia, SC. Anyone who rides their bike to work from May through September risks heat stroke. Leave the bike paths for the larger developments for fun. The number of workers downtown who would use them is miniscule. The fact that bicycles are even mentioned so prominently in the report diminishes its value immediately. The problem IS NOT not enough bike paths.
    2) The report says a 1 percent tax increase would generate a HALF A BILLION dollars over 8 years with 3% going to Administration (ha!) and 15% going to greenway/bikeway (that’s $75 MILLION dollars, people!) and 25% to Transit ($125 million). Why am I starting to be reminded of the Jim Clyburn bridge over 277?
    3) Here’s a quote from the document:
    “The 8-year recommendations include 27.4
    miles of greenways projects totaling over $12 million.”
    That’s $437,000 per mile. For bikes and pedestrians. Mr. Cynical might wonder who owns the land where these greenways would be purchased with Other People’s Money?
    4) The document claims “lack of transportation options hinders Richland County’s ability to promote job growth.”
    Really? Well, then where are all the tens of thousands of people who have moved to the area in the past decade working? Can you imagine what our schools and roads would look like if the county had even higher job growth?
    This is a complete falsehood.
    What impacts job growth is the lack of vision in creating an environment to support high technology jobs. High taxes is what keeps top companies away, not the lack of a decent bus system.
    We want companies in Columbia who hire people at a wage high enough that they don’t NEED to ride the bus!
    5) I read through the 150 page document fairly quickly but as far as I could tell, there wasn’t a single statistic showing how many actual people would be riding the bus or riding bicycles. There were pages and pages of data on how the $500 million dollars would be spent — down to individual sidewalks. But not a single mention of who exactly how many people would benefit from this expenditure.
    Surely someone has done an analysis of the cost per mile per rider for the bus? Or of how many bicyclists are expected to take advantage of each $400K mile? Let’s see those numbers.
    Finally, the reason we have congested roads is because of a growth and development policy that favored developers over residents. The short term, quick dollar, increase the tax base mindset resulted in an explosion of growth in the Northeast and Harbison areas that never considered the impact on infrastructure like roads, water, and schools. Now it’s time to pay the piper for that greed. A slow growth policy back in the mid-90’s would have allowed Columbia to make a sane transition. Now we’re stuck with school bond referendums, water shortages, and clogged roads.
    Just like with the plaintive wailing about “it’s for the children” whenever a bond referendum for schools comes up, we hear the same sad stories about the poor and elderly when it comes to public transportation. It’s easy to fix a problem when you can take money from citizens. It’s a lot harder to come up with a smart plan in the first place.
    Let’s see the County push for impact fees first before it sticks its hand into the taxpayers’ pocket again.

  14. Robert

    First of all, have CMRTA run by one person. Surely (I know I’m asking to move a mountain here) Richland and Lexington Counties and the incorporated communities can come together to find a qualified bus manager. This person would be charged to identify routes, times and potential sources of revenue to maximize ridership at minimal cost to the public. Committees never come back with anything other than raise taxes or reduce service or some other simple non-answer that costs us too much money. If routes go where people are and want to go, are easy to understand, and fares reasonable, perhaps we can have decent bus service.

  15. Jay

    Doug, you said, “We want companies in Columbia who hire people at a wage high enough that they don’t NEED to ride the bus!”
    I think this is the fundamental disconnect on why people are so anti-public transportation. It’s the stigma that riding the bus (or walking or riding a bike, for that matter) is surely beneath anyone who can afford a car, as if that is the true measure of success. I bet there are more people than you would like to think that would be happy to ride a bus, or bike to work, if it were convenient and safe.

  16. Doug Ross

    > . I bet there are more people than you
    >would like to think that would be happy to
    >ride a bus, or bike to work, if it were >convenient and safe
    Especially if someone else pays the bulk of the cost.
    How about instead of spending $75 million on bike paths, we spend that money on food for the hungry and medicine for the sick.
    A society that has money for bike paths must have everything else under control, right?

  17. JJ

    Doug states:
    “A slow growth policy back in the mid-90’s would have allowed Columbia to make a sane transition. Now we’re stuck with school bond referendums, water shortages, and clogged roads.”
    I couldn’t agree with you more. The problem is, during the 90’s we did not have responsible growth policies in the county. The question is no longer how we can prevent poor planning, but how we can fix the mistakes of previous councils.
    If you look at all the roadway projects on that list, how many of those projects are preparing for future growth? Maybe 1 (Shop Road extension). Just about all of the roads on that list are correcting the poor planning mistakes of the past (ie. Hardscrabble, Assembly Street, Broad River Rd, etc). All of these projects come with price tags in the tens of millions of dollars range. All of these projects are needed, but how can we address them now that the damage has been done?
    I would be interested in hearing more from Doug.

  18. Mike Montgomery

    Unfortunately, we get back to the Legislature again on having a meaningful impact fee. The bills have been introduced — but not passed. In Orlando Florida, the impact fees approach 7% of the cost of a new residence. They are used for roads, fire stations, schools, water and sewer. That is not happening in SC. I think that such a fee offers many advantages, it lets the growth self finance, it lowers property taxes, and I’d venture to say that it helps stabilize or even raise existing property values. It also could help promote smarter growth. The housing community will argue that it limits the availability of housing by making it less affordable. The legislature has bought that argument. I wonder why I see these calls when some other public expense comes up — but no other time. I can state that I’ve been an advocate (very publically) for more than 12 years.
    The argument against bike transit may have some merit — (but looking to the future I think that we’re going to need and see the need for more and more. If you really want high tech jobs and high tech workers — bike lanes and bike transit are a big selling point. Just look at the areas where those companies locate. I’m sure the
    comment that folks will have a heat stroke riding in the summer is just hyperbole. IF it’s not, try riding and you’ll learn otherwise. Many people, in many parts of the world, including the US commute on bicycles. The bike lanes simply provide safe connectivity so that folks have that capability. Every bike trip takes a car off the road, out of the parking lots and removes the exhaust from our ozone filled atmosphere.
    The plan is about establishing a system where someone has multiple options to get from point A to point B efficiently – and creating a community where people can accomplish this without being dependent only on automobiles.
    They information on bus ridership is in the techmemos leading up to the final report which can also be downloaded from the county’s web site.
    If you’re interested in the impact of greenway’s projects, just look at the one we have along the river and what it has done for the quality of life of folks there — alot more than any other use of your public dollars — (see e.g. City spending on “Streetscapes”)
    I recognize that it is easy to pick apart some portion of every plan. Also, no plan lacks room for improvement. Hundreds of members of the public participated in the creation of the Richland on the Move document — it is not a creation of county council. I believe that had it been, it would have been a much lesser plan — because it would have been focused on what went where instead of what was needed.
    And one final note, when a referendum is held, the County is not “sticking its fingers in the taxpayers pockets” — the taxpayers are making a decision by popular vote to pursue a policy.

  19. eric

    I thank Councilman Montgomery for his efforts in this issue. Having spoken to him about it I understand his interest are mainly ones of public service and that since others in positions of responsibilities have abrogated their responsibilities in this area, he has had to lead. Most of our leaders are worried about partisan or petty politics. No doubt that Mr. Montgomery’s efforts will lead to a better place to live.

  20. Wilson

    Mr. Montgomery makes a grave error if he think he can debate with the Libertarians on this blog. They will never concede intellectual points to human need…as in their world on the argument matters…the people don’t.
    Keep up the good work, Mr. Montgomery. Honest, hardworking people need you.

  21. Doug Ross

    Wilson is incorrect. Read my later post regarding using the funds for the hungry and those who do not have access to the medicine they need. I have a great interest in seeing that those who are in need are helped. It comes down to using tax revenues in a way that addresses the greatest need with the least bureaucracy. For me, bike paths don’t come close to caring for the sick and the hungry.
    I just learned yesterday of the death of a longtime Columbia homeless man named Champ. Perhaps you walked past him one time and avoided eye contact. He was a large black man with no legs who could be seen around the First Baptist Church area on the fourth Saturday every month when we hold a Feed The Hungry meal. Over the past year, I gave Champ approximately $100 for prescriptions, new tires for his wheelchair, and whatever else he needed.
    Any thoughts on whether Champ would have voted for $75 million dollars worth of bike paths? Maybe he would have lived a little longer if he had access to a decent diet and a warm place to sleep and the medicine he needed.
    The roots of Libertarianism are not based in selfishness. They are based in personal responsibility. It’s about doing the right thing, not about forcing others to do what you think is the right thing.
    A Libertarian solution to the transportation issue might include relaxing local government rules that regulate private taxi cabs to increase the supply. Or establishing tax breaks for companies who set up shuttle services for their employees. Or providing matching funds or access to vehicles to charities to use for public service — how many school buses sit idle during the middle of the day and on weekends? Why can’t they be used for other purposes — because the “government” can’t think beyond rules and regulations.
    The easiest solution is the tax everybody and hope that enough money flows through the system to make it to its intended purpose.

  22. Alex N

    I appreciate Mr. Montgomery taking a broad view of our needs. He is one of the few people in public life that understands that government only works when it is efficient, and serves the needs of the people.
    Our world is changing, and public transportation is going to be a meaningful part of our lives. We can change now, or later…the choice is ours.

  23. Doug Ross

    Mike Montgomery says:
    “Many people, in many parts of the world, including the US commute on bicycles.”
    Mike, I spend at least half my work weeks traveling around the country. I’ve spent the past two years in the San Francisco and Denver areas — two areas known for higher percentages of “green” residents. I see the bike paths. I don’t see the bike riders. Certainly far less than 1% of workers. It’s impractical unless you are in excellent physical condition and the weather permits it. That’s not Columbia. I would make a bet that you would see fewer than 100 people a day take advantage of a bikeway that allowed them to commute to work. For $75 million, we need something that has a better payback.
    All you have to do is Google some of the names of the committee members from the report and you’ll find that many come to the table with a vested interest in a particular way to spend tax revenues.

  24. Lee Muller

    Any idiot can raise taxes. Let’s see some management, budgets and cost control for a change.
    City Council has decided that the recreation center on Harden Street for the government crime pockets is more important than busses.
    Richland County has decided that recreation fields on Sumter Highway are more important than busses.
    Let the developers pay for the bike paths, instead of the taxpayers paying for parks and greenways to subsidize developers.

  25. Doug Ross

    Here’s a key data point from today’s article in the The State on Columbia’s bus situation:
    “That leaves the transit authority with about $2.5 million from bus fares, and $1 million a year it already gets from Columbia’s hydroelectric power plant.”
    That $2.5 million is out of a $12 million dollar operating budget. So taxpayers are subsidizing 80% of the cost for bus riders.

  26. David Goode

    Mr. Montgomery did not write the report, or agree with all of its conclusions. He is only trying to make sense of a bad situation.
    The world is mad for oil, and the world as we know it has changed. We will never have “cheap fuel” again, and it may well get much worse than it is now. What is not important is today, or next year..but the extended future. Mr. Montgomery is acting responsibly and in the interest of the broad community that he serves.
    He has proven time and time again he is against higher taxes, and believes in good government. But sometimes there is a cost to what we need.
    I thank Mike Montgomery for the courage to work on this issue. It is easy for people like Mr. Ross, a failed politician, to throw arrows from the sidelines…after all, the public does not depend on his judgment or ability.

  27. Doug Ross

    > Mr. Ross, a failed politician,
    Huh? I ran for school board once six years ago.
    One of the reasons I didn’t win is that I am NOT a politician. I spent my own money on my campaign and turned down donations. I spoke out against the ridiculous growth policies in the district at that time. The school board never said a word when the county allowed the district to get overcrowded.
    They just looked at the increased money that could be wasted on technology and on the latest whims of the administration which has a bunch of people who only care about awards and publicity.
    Turns out I was right…
    Mr. Montgomery knows the Richland 2 school board very well. As do I now.

  28. Doug Ross

    And “David Goode” — please drop me an email sometime if you dare to give up hiding behind a phony name and email address. I’d love to hear your analysis of my failed political career.

  29. Doug Ross

    And isn’t is weird that all the people who champion the efforts of Mike Montgomery use phony Yahoo email addresses and pseudonyms?
    Is the issue of bus transportation in Columbia so controversial that a person would be afraid to use his real name to show his support?
    Argue the facts. Start with a system that takes in 2.5 million dollars and spends 12 million. Is Columbia reaping 9.5 million dollars of net benefit from the current bus system? Simple question.

  30. Mike Montgomery

    I hope that we can keep this discussion about the issue and not have it degrade into personal attacks. There is certainly room in the debate for myriad opinions. No doubt, there are many ways to skin the cat — we just need to decide whether or not — and how. We also need to stick to the facts — the so called $75,000,000 isn’t for “bike paths” — but includes funding for greenways (which provide access) and the bulk of it is for pedestrian improvements — which will make it safer for folks to walk a ways to some neighborhood destinations. I usually walk when I have to do something downtown from my office. I’m amazed at how much further I will walk when I’m in — say — New York City. We need to encourage neighborhood walking — and that is what pedestrian improvements do. It would have been great had the “developers” built them — and many are currently required, but we can’t make the developers come back and redo.
    But the focus of this thread is the Bus or Public Transit system.
    The problem is how do we deal with a failed public transit system. The Committee made a number of recommendations that include (as related by the transit subcommittee):
    1. Conduct a Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA) to understand what specifically should be done to redesign/add/drop routes to maximize ridership.
    Currently, CMRTA does not regularly collect data regarding current riders and potential riders (who they are, where they come from and where they are going) and the routes are simply maintained as they always have been without consideration to new routes and redesigned routes to better serve existing riders and well serve potential riders – and increase ridership by both transit dependent riders who have no other transit option and potential transit optional riders who have other choices but who will ride public transit if it meets their needs (convenient, no long waits, easy to understand and takes them where they want to go).
    2. Link transit operations with marketing to work with employers and employment centers to increase ridership, develop new routes from residential areas to employment centers without going through the downtown transit center.
    This marketing should be directed toward USC, major employers and employment centers and residential areas in the service area. CMRTA should be offering a variety of discounts and promotional fares to build ridership.
    By way of example, the Greater Richmond Transit Company, a wholly owned subsidary of the City of Richmond, VA, the capital of Virginia,receives approximately $1.5M per year from 30,000+ student Virginia Commonwealth University and approximately $5.5M from the Commonwealth of Virginia.
    3. Improve bus stops that are safer with a hard surface standing area, benches, improved and informative route signage, lights and trash cans that are regularly emptied.
    The bus stops are the service points of entry for current and future riders. They are the “first impression” of the service delivery.They should be clean, attractive and safe.
    4. Implement annual bus replacement and renewal program and purchase additional buses for expanded service.
    CMRTA currently does not have an annual bus replacement program. That means that the fleet does not have a schedule for replacing the buses in the fleet. They currently all go old together or are replaced as annual funds permit. The fleet currently consists of approximately 45 buses. The fleet would be expanded to approximately 100 buses to meet expanded service for new/expanded routes and increase in service frequency.
    5. Dramatic improvement in frequency of service and restoration of Saturday and Sunday service.
    Currently, service frequency is at Level D,E and F Weekdays During Peak Service. This means that riders must wait from over 20 minutes to over 1 hour for a bus – and that is the most frequent service provided. Weekday Off Peak, Saturday and Sunday service frequency deteriorates even further with only 7 of 22 routes providing service on Sunday and that service has over a 1 hour wait.
    The recommendations would improve Service Frequency during Weekday Peak to service level C, a bus every 15 minutes (15 to 20 minutes is the maximum time to wait if potential rider has transit options), improve service frequency for the rest of the weekday service and all weekend service to level D, a bus every 30 minutes. The Saturday and Sunday service would be fully restored with 30 minute service.
    In addition, service to Transit Dependent areas of Richland County would be increased from 65% to 75% to better serve Transit Dependent riders.
    The recommendations likewise incorporate similar service expansions of CMRTA’s DART service which serves the disabled and handicapped.
    6. System capacity to implement new routes.
    Currently, CMRTA does not have the financial or operational capacity to implement new routes or otherwise expand service. The recommendations would give CMRTA that capacity with additional funding and an expanded fleet. The expansions of service, and the redesigned/new routes, would be incorporated into the total service mix and the CMRTA Board would decide what routes ( new, existing and modified) would be established to best serve the needs of existing and new riders and at what costs.
    7. Changes in the governance structure which will assure Richland County that non-Richland County members will not be able to decide what happens to Richland County transit dollars and transit service in Richland County. Likewise, strengthening management will assure that the system is operating at maximum performance and best serving Richland County.
    Currently, the CMRTA Board is composed of members from all the political jurisdictions in Lexington and Richland County. Only Richland County and the City of Columbia contribute local funding but do not represent a majority of the Board. That means that others can make decisions about the transit service in Richland County and how Richland County transit dollars can be used. Richland County must have effective control of transit in the County and over its transit dollars.
    The recommendations address this issue as well as working with Lexington County to have it restore its share of funding, and in turn receive service, so that the system is truly regional.
    The management of CMRTA, including marketing, needs to be strengthened. It does not have the capacity to undertake the aggressive improvement and expansion program provided for by the recommendations.
    8. Improved transit service will increase ridership among both transit dependent and transit optional riders and will help reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.
    Transit ridership has increased dramatically across the nation in face of $3.00 -$4.00 gasoline. Higher gasoline prices will remain an American reality for the future. The increase in ridership, as reported by tha American Public Transportation Association, includes transit optional riders who are seeking less expensive means of travel to and from work and in their daily lives. Likewise, increased transit ridership means fewer automobiles on the roads. The US Department of Transportation has just reported a first-time ever sharp decline in miles driven by Americans motorists.
    Richland County borders on being declared a non-attainment air quality area by the US Environmental Protection Agency. If that happens, restrictions will be placed on development, including development related to economic development and job growth. Increased transit use reduces air pollution since individual vehicles are replaced by buses carrying many passengers.
    9. The Local Option Sales Tax is the only revenue source available to Richland County that is capable of producing the revenue necessary to fund the Recommendations.
    The State so restricts the source and amount of local funding available to us for these transportation projects that the County has no other choice other than the Local Option Sales Tax. Even the Real Estate Tax is so restricted that it offers little promise for these Transportation improvements.
    This same restrictive environment exists across South Carolina, however citizens in other jurisdictions have approved local option taxes for transportation and other capital projects and have voted to continue the taxes when renewal/reauthorization time occurred. They voted to maintain the taxes because they realized the benefits they were receiving from these transportation and capital projects were well worth the costs.
    If you have attended the community meeting and observed the number of employees at places like Blue Cross / Blue Shield, the area Hospitals and students at Midlands Tech that ride the bus — you understand the substantial value that transit plays in our community. You also haven’t had to navigate the highways with the trips now handled by the bus replaced by some other means. So we’ll see more traffic, more pollution (it may be surprising but we have a big ozone problem which could cause our community sanctions from EPA). How do you put a dollar value on it? That is a question for us all to address — but you can’t just ignore the issue or fill the air with platitudes and solve the problem.
    Charity and helping individuals are wonderful and the world will be a better place when everyone conducts themselves in that way, but here, we have an opportunity to not only solve a problem, but change the way our community works — for the better — for a long period of time.

  31. Lee Muller

    If the bus system were run like a real business, the question would be, “Are the riders getting $12,000,000 worth of service?”
    If they are not paying the full fare, why not?
    If the bus system could charge them more and increase revenues, why doesn’t it do so?
    Why can’t the bus system attract more customers and pay its own way?
    These are basic facts which management should be able to answer without hesitation, and with detailed studies to back up the answers. They are the basic questions the citizens and council need answered in order to come to a comprehensive solution, which includes more than just how to tax the non-riders.

  32. Lee Muller

    If most of the riders are to single destinations like Midlands Tech and Blue Cross, it sounds like beneficiaries MTC and BCBS need to running their own bus systems or paying the full rider costs to the government system.

  33. Mike Montgomery

    This issue is not about me. The proposal is not “the effort of Mike Montgomery.” It is the result of a study backed by a large majority of County Council and championed by a group of selfless volunteers who devoted large blocks of their time to comprehensively study the issue and develop reasonable recommendations considering all of the facts. They should be commended for that. My “efforts” here are simply to try and introduce as much factual information as possible. I believe in small government. Some of you obviously prefer none — and that is your choice. I certainly feel that we need a viable system in Richland County. Paying for it is a challenge. I’m open to ideas — and criticism — but let’s keep our eyes on the facts.

  34. Mike Montgomery

    I believe that the ideas articulated in the Study are designed to attract more customers and help improve system finances. They also will help us save money building and maintaining roads, parking lots and the like. The system can’t just spring into operation without being developed. That was the reason council undertook a study as opposed to just trying to fund it as it was two years ago — or letting it die.

  35. Doug Ross

    Thank you for adding valuable information to the discussion. I do appreciate your service and your approach. I wish others shared your commitment.
    My take on these types of issues is that we tend to see the following behavior from government:
    1) A problem is identified
    2) A solution is determined
    3) A source of new money to solve the problem is identified. This typically involves spreading the cost between the most people (taxpayers)
    4) Proponents of the new tax present the problem in the bleakest terms and the solution in the best possible way (for example, every bond referendum is presented as “it only adds $10 per year to a $100K home).
    5) Once the tax is implemented, it never goes away. It just becomes part of the ongoing revenue stream.
    6) The underlying issue that caused the problem is never addressed
    I’d vote for a Local Option Sales Tax to fund transportation needs created by bad decisions in the past if it was tied to strict growth caps and impact fees as well.
    I reject the argument that impact fees are not possible. The restriction against impact fees is a law made by men. It can be reversed if enough people decide to do so.
    Instead of bandaids, we need a get well plan.

  36. Lee Muller

    Mr. Montgomery,
    You just ADMITTED that the Transit Authority kept no data on the riders, so they lack the basic information to manage the business, set routes or attract new riders. County Council lacks the basic information to make an informed decision.
    The prudent and honest thing to do is to IMMEDIATELY cut off all public funding until the data is provided by CMRTA management. And it sounds like that probably needs to be new management or a contract team brought in to clean up the books.

  37. Mike Montgomery

    The points are good. We have worked on legislation several times to create a meaningful impact fee — when one was imminent locally, the legislature essentially stepped in to prevent it. I agree that laws are made by men and women and can be changed. The practical problem is getting the votes to do it. I can only vote for one legislator — who says he’ll continue to support impact fees. The same with my state senator. But the bad state policy ought not cause us to implement bad local policy in protest. We have to work for our community in spite of it.
    We have looked at your suggestion on the CMRTA. Problem is, right now it is the only entity that we can use. If the sales tax were to pass, the implementation would have (as you see by the committee’s recommendations) been required to address things like accountability and board participation, ridership data, etc. That was the price for our support. Additionally, there is a pretty moribund federal bureaucracy to deal with too. I’m not trying to “pass the buck” and lay blame on the state and feds — although in my opinion they richly deserve it. But I do want to emphasize that we in local government have to work within the parameters set by those in state and federal government — even when we question the reasonableness or practicality of those rules. If I could change some of those laws, I’d be happy too. But as is evident from this problem, I can’t even beat a minority on County Council.

  38. Lee Muller

    All that state and federal stuff is another issue.
    Your root problem is poor management and lack of financial, operational and rider demographic data necessary to make an informed decision. It is irresponsible to spend any more taxpayer money until you have all the information required for an informed analysis of all the options, which include shutting the entire system down.

  39. Doug Ross

    And it comes down to priorities and choices. Why not suspend any bond referendum activity for parks and recreation for two years and address the transportation issue instead?
    Will the legislator/senators who support impact fees identify the members of the leadership who are preventing the issue from moving forward? Let’s have a public debate on that issue.

  40. bill

    I’d like to ask the billionaires on this blog a question:How much higher do gas prices have to go before you’d consider riding the bus?
    Just wondering where the cut-off point is for those living the lifestyles of the rich and famous….

  41. Lee Muller

    It is irresponsible to borrow money to build parks and recreation facilities, anyway. If you can’t pay cash for it, don’t buy it. It is criminal to saddle children with debt and future taxes on which they had no vote.

  42. Lee Muller

    It depends on whether I am getting to ride the bus for free, for 80% off fare, or for full fare, and what full fare costs.
    Right now, we taxpayers are paying full fare without getting to ride.

  43. Mike Montgomery

    So that you’ll have an idea of the problems we have in using an impact fee — although I’m still a big supporter, I’m excerpting some sections of the statute. Basically, the current situation eliminates schools from consideration and requires the impact fee to be mathematically tied to the costs of additions for service of the new development. In addition to putting some prerequisites in place, which Richland County is in the process of achieving, the current law makes every decision arguable as to what percentage of a particular development effects existing facilities and doesn’t give local governments the ability to do what is done in most other states with impact fees, effect a flat, per unit charge which can be used to fund infrastructure. This is legislation designed to say we have a fee, but to make it virtually impossible for the fee to be used to keep existing residents from expending tax dollars to pay for new roads, schools and the like.
    At a time when Richland 2 is growing 1200+ students per year — this is why they have to keep building schools at a cost to current residents. The same is true in every growing area. York County is different because they had an impact fee that was grandfathered in.
    Hope this is helpful.
    (17) “Proportionate share” means that portion of the cost of system improvements determined pursuant to Section 6-1-990 which reasonably relates to the service demands and needs of the project.
    (18) “Public facilities” means:
    (a) water supply production, treatment, laboratory, engineering, administration, storage, and transmission facilities;
    (b) wastewater collection, treatment, laboratory, engineering, administration, and disposal facilities;
    (c) solid waste and recycling collection, treatment, and disposal facilities;
    (d) roads, streets, and bridges including, but not limited to, rights-of-way and traffic signals;
    (e) storm water transmission, retention, detention, treatment, and disposal facilities and flood control facilities;
    (f) public safety facilities, including law enforcement, fire, emergency medical and rescue, and street lighting facilities;
    (g) capital equipment and vehicles, with an individual unit purchase price of not less than one hundred thousand dollars including, but not limited to, equipment and vehicles used in the delivery of public safety services, emergency preparedness services, collection and disposal of solid waste, and storm water management and control;
    (h) parks, libraries, and recreational facilities.
    (19) “Service area” means, based on sound planning or engineering principles, or both, a defined geographic area in which specific public facilities provide service to development within the area defined. Provided, however, that no provision in this article may be interpreted to alter, enlarge, or reduce the service area or boundaries of a political subdivision which is authorized or set by law.
    (20) “Service unit” means a standardized measure of consumption, use, generation, or discharge attributable to an individual unit of development calculated in accordance with generally accepted engineering or planning standards for a particular category of capital improvements.
    (21) “System improvements” means capital improvements to public facilities which are designed to provide service to a service area.
    (22) “System improvement costs” means costs incurred for construction or reconstruction of system improvements, including design, acquisition, engineering, and other costs attributable to the improvements, and also including the costs of providing additional public facilities needed to serve new growth and development. System improvement costs do not include:
    (a) construction, acquisition, or expansion of public facilities other than capital improvements identified in the capital improvements plan;
    (b) repair, operation, or maintenance of existing or new capital improvements;
    (c) upgrading, updating, expanding, or replacing existing capital improvements to serve existing development in order to meet stricter safety, efficiency, environmental, or regulatory standards;
    (d) upgrading, updating, expanding, or replacing existing capital improvements to provide better service to existing development;
    (e) administrative and operating costs of the governmental entity; or
    (f) principal payments and interest or other finance charges on bonds or other indebtedness except financial obligations issued by or on behalf of the governmental entity to finance capital improvements identified in the capital improvements plan.

  44. Doug Ross

    Thanks, Mike for the details.
    The bottom line is that it should be Richland County’s business as to how it decides to raise revenues to pay for infrastructure related to Richland County. It’s nobody else’s business.
    Laws like the ones preventing impact fees were created for specific reasons: to protect developers/builders.
    I spoke with recently with someone who is actively involved in the design and construction of Richland 2 schools. He is 100% in favor of impact fees — his suggestion was a per bedroom fee of approximately $3000. Pay it upfront and spend it immediately on infrastructure.
    Existing home values will rise. Growth will slow to perhaps a point where we can get ahead of the bubble before it bursts.
    Perhaps Brad can get involved by making the question on impact fees one of the key deciding factors in endorsements this fall.

  45. Mike Montgomery

    We definitely agree on that Doug. We also then need to make sure that our State and Local officials are both of a caliber to deal with these complex issues — and then the Public needs to be kept abreast of all of the facts.

  46. Lee Muller

    Forget the impact fee. Make the developers pay the entire cost, like the used to do.
    When I built houses in Columbia in the 1970s, developers had to cut and pave the roads, lay sidewalks, lay sewer lines, lay water lines, lay underground telco and cable TV lines… then deed it all over to the city or county. All that cost went into the house prices.
    Then the big developers figured out it was cheaper to buy the government with donations, grease for in-laws, and putting their people on the city and county councils. The turned it 180 degrees, to the taxpayers building everything but the housing and giving it to the developers.
    The last two high-rise condos I did at the beach, same thing. We paid 100% of the cost of new infrastructure, and deeded over roads and right-of-ways to Surfside Beach. We built that cost into the price of the condominiums, which sold out 100% before construction was finished.

  47. Lee Muller

    The major problem with impact fees is that you cannot trust the local governments to
    1. Set the fees high enough to cover the actual costs.
    2. Not overcharge ( like the $3,600 fee for a water meter in Columbia).
    3. Actually ave the money in a sinking fund to pay for the infrasture in THAT development or to save it all. Most of them will blow the money as soon as they get it.

  48. JJ

    There were three great things about the transportation sales tax: 1) There was a countywide benefit, 2) Everyone in the county would contribute to the tax, and 3) The county could have exported a significant portion of the tax to outsiders and non-residents who use our infrastructure but pay none of the costs (such as students and visitors who do not pay property or vehicle taxes.) Without the sales tax, either county residents will pay 100% of the cost of these projects, or the needed projects will not get done.
    Take Hardscrabble Road for example. That’s probably a $70-80 million project. It would take DOT 30 years just to build up the revenue to do it. One option would be to create a residential improvement district (RID), where only the people who live on or near Hardscrabble would pay for the cost of widening it. If we assume that there are 10,000 parcels in the area, it would cost the average owner $7,000-$8,000 to widen that road under a RID. In reality, what we can expect to happen is… absolutely nothing. Hardscrabble, and many roads like it, will never be addressed, while the cost of these projects grows exponentially into the future.

  49. Lee Muller

    Then don’t improve Hardscrabble Road until the beneficiaries are willing to pay for it.
    This thing of everyone trying to get everyone else to pay for their housing development is how the politicians milk all of us, subsidize the developers, and we taxpayers end up paying more in the long run from permanent taxes, and misuse of public funds.
    And it is responsible for urban sprawl, fuel waste, smog, water pollution…

  50. JJ

    If we use the philosophy that only those who directly benefit pay for the improvement, then nothing will ever get done. That may be exactly what some people may want, but I do not want to live in a county that falls into perpetual disrepair. We saw in Minneapolis what happens when a community’s infrastructure needs are ignored.
    What about maintenance of existing roads? The county maintains over 450 miles of such roads. A good road should last 20 years. That means the county should be resurfacing 5% each year. Currently, there is only enough money to pave 1%. I hope your road is well built, because under current funding levels, it may be 100 years until it is resurfaced.

  51. p.m.

    Wow, Columbia needs an effective mass transit system because Brad Warthen, vice president of The State, couldn’t find a convenient way to get to work and back home again when his ride was in the shop?
    Methinks the city could save money simply by buying his editorship a helpful friend.

  52. David

    Some bright light asked about 30 posts ago at what point we millionaires and rich/famous folks would look at gas prices and decide they were too high, and begin riding a bus.
    Good question. Let’s see…
    I haven’t checked recently, but I imagine that right now, considering bus transfers and fares, it would probably cost me six or seven dollars to ride/change buses/ride some more to get across town (from one end of bus service to another). Kind of like I was out on Sumter highway and wanted to go to Harbison.
    All the while on these buses, I would be at the mercy of bus schedules, late buses and buses filled with humanity in various states of drunkeness, thugness, and animosity. At the beginning of the ride and at the end, I would be exposed to whatever weather conditions were happening at the time. At the end of the trip I would again be on foot to get from the bus stop to wherever I was going. You ever tried to cross Harbison Blvd on foot?
    My car gets between 26 and 32 miles per gallon. The bus ride would have been about 25 miles, so in my car I would use about a gallon of gas to make the trip, and I’d spend less money. Moreover, I could leave exactly when I wanted, hit additional stops on the way, and avoid the safety/weather issues both on the bus and at either end of the bus ride. I could leave the destination and return exactly when I wanted. And, I could do all this while listening unmolested to Rush Limbaugh or a Johnny Cash cd, under cool cool airconditioning or gentle warmth.
    I don’t know how high gas has to get before I’ll surrender all that for a bus ride, but it’s a damn sight higher than 5 bucks a gallon.

  53. Dave

    I mentioned drunkeness above.
    In fairness to crack addicts, I should also have mentioned drug intoxication.
    Always want to be inclusive and diversity-conscious doncha know.
    Just sayin. David

  54. David

    And to think…that the strength of Brad Warthens’ case for all this is that he had to catch a ride with someone a couple of weeks ago.
    Oh the hu-MAN-ity!!!

  55. Mike M

    It would be very helpful if these bloggers, politicians and other posters knew just a little about what they spout. In the prior post that trip from Sumter highway to Harbison would have cost one fair with a free transfer. Could have brought a portable if Rush is that important. The heat and air conditioning are very adequate. Save all that money for necessary trips in that personal vehicle.
    How many posters here have actually used CMTRA on a regular basis, if not where do they get their opinions? I as mostly an optional, sometime necessary user find the accommodation more than adequate and very inexpensive compared to driving. There is much room for improvement such as better routes/schedules, bus stops, etc.
    “Currently, CMRTA does not regularly collect data” Seems to me that a bus knows exactly where it is at on every stop, how many fairs/transfers collected. Not using this data for improvement is inexcusable.
    Has anyone considered some of the ulterior motives like all the lost government revenue lost from not driving. Lost taxes on licensing, gasoline, sales tax on; tires, oil, service, etc.
    Have any of you considered the benefits if you would start riding? If you actually used the service then many more of us could take you seriously.

  56. Mike M

    A small P.S.
    The GTA (Greenville, S.C.) is far superior to CMRTA. Better routes/schedules and bus stops. I have no idea if they are profitable, but several lessons could be learned nearby. There are many profitable transit systems around this country (Houston, TX is one I think), take lessons.

  57. Doug Ross

    Mike M,
    Please tell me where I get the bus in Blythewood to get downtown. If every taxpayer is subsidizing the cost, shouldn’t we all have reasonably close access to service?

  58. Lee Muller

    Where do you get the ridiculous notion that, “if only those who directly benefit pay, then nothing will get done”????
    That is free market capitalism, and it gets things done better than socialism and crony socialism, because it allocates resources where the most people truly want them.
    It worked before, for 300 years. I just gave you examples of my construction projects as late as the 1970s and 1980s. It works today. I have a project in California where we built a private 6-lane truck expressway 4 miles long, taking traffic off the Interstate roads and city streets. That project also includes a 38-mile rail line, all paid for by the businesses who benefit. I am now engineering a 128-mile rail line in Oregon, all private, for profit.
    Government can’t do a good job because it is corrupted to make its goal that of subsidizing developers, not serving the community. Look at light rail in Charlotte, 205% over budget and climbing, $480,000,000 spent for 6,300 riders a day. At a $20 fare, they couldn’t recoup the interest on the bonds. At a $5.00 fare, they would have about 1,000 riders.
    If the GovCo planners get together with developers and decide they are going to cram 10,000 new houses into Killian over 10 years and they want an overpriced new road at, let’s say $50,000,000, it means you charge each house a road fee $5,000. You don’t need the road built until there are about 3,000 new homes, so you bank $15,000,000 the first 3 years and draw interest. By the time you get to 5,000 homes, you have finished the road, and only borrowed half the cost. In 5 more years, you have enough fee money to pay off the loan. Everybody gets treated the same, you don’t waste money, the beneficiaries pay the true cost of their houses, and the other taxpayers don’t get stuck.

  59. Doug Ross

    You’ve got to stop talking sense and providing specific examples and data from real world experience.
    All that does is confuse the issue of just how much we all should be paying to make the world a shiny happy place where everyone can ride on a solar powered magic carpet to their their three hour a day, three day a week job.

  60. Lee Muller

    I forgot that Brad began this topic with the foregone conclusion that “we” just have to pay more taxes for empty busses to waste fuel, because the riders are poor, and we aren’t a big city unless we have busses and trains like Paris.

  61. David

    Mike M.
    I don’t care whether you take me seriously or not, Mike. Really ~ I don’t.
    I am just about tired of people like you being all supercilious and critical of people like me who just want to enjoy the freedom that we have to drive our cars and enjoy the comfort and convenience that they provide. Whether you like it or not. If you like the CMRTA, then ride the friggin thing to your hearts’ content and stop trying to place a guilt trip on those of us who don’t like it and don’t want to ride it.
    Your guilt play doesn’t work on me in the least.
    In fact, I have a sneaky suspicion that YOU don’t ride the bus nearly as often as you’d like everyone to believe. We don’t have any way to tell whether you really ride it, do we? At least it’s obvious I’m telling the truth: I don’t like it and don’t intend to ride it. Again, YOU ride the friggin thing. You say you’re sometimes obligatd to ride it. Well, tough. You should have done better in school so you could afford a car. Then again, if you like it, the fact that it’s sometimes necessary for you shouldn’t bother you. I really just think it’s very likely that you’re simply another tree hugging crusader who gets his nuggies by telling everyone else what they ought to be doing.
    And it is sickening. I don’t give a damn what you think. Period. And I refuse to feel ANY guilt about going and coming as I please.
    By the way, your little snippet about the loss of government revenue (or whatever pinheaded point you were attempting to make) tells me everything I need to know about you. NO one thinks in those terms Mike. No one that is, except a guy that loves government and hates it when government loses tax revenue. This isn’t normal. It is twisted, and comes almost exclusively from people just like you.
    Mind your own business.

  62. David

    Precisely so Lee.
    One could look at my first post (eight or nine up from here) and conclude from my comments about the crack addicts, thugs and drunks who often ride the bus, that I am a bigot.
    They’d be dead wrong.
    I did NOT say that EVERYONE who rides the bus is one of these losers. But enough are that it certainly makes the buses more dangerous than a car is. Even if it’s just a panhandler I don’t want me, my wife or kids exposed to these elements. Especially not when a much better, more convenient and safer alternative is parked in my driveway.
    I retired from military service and lived over five years in Japan. This is a country that does mass transit (trains primarily) and does it very well. It has to. It’s geography and the resulting population density in urban centers makes it necessary. Virtually every drop of petroleum they use is imported. There are cultural differences that make the Japanese mass transit system a success.
    Nearly none of those conditions exist here on a nation wide basis; only in our huge urban centers do we see similarities to the Japanese model. And even in them, the accounts of thugs, panhandlers, drunks, crazy people, murderers, rapists and robbers are legend on systems like the New York subways or the sorry system in the LA basin, whatever that monstrosity is called.
    I don’t ever intend to set a foot on a bus in Columbia, if I can help it. And I certainly don’t intend for my wife or kids to ride them. I simply observe what our society has become, and I hate that the buses are a concentration point for these elements of society, but they are. I am not a bigot. I just observe what is, and live my life accordingly.
    No matter WHAT people like Mike M may think or say.

  63. David

    By the way Mike:
    Pay your own damn way!
    Why should my 60-hour-a-week hard earned tax dollars be spent to subsidize your sometimes obligatory and often voluntary bus rides? At least I suppose they’re voluntary. Again I ask: Who would make this choice of transportation if another alternative were available?
    We taxpayers got enough stuff to pay for without driving four fifths empty CMRTA buses all over town so guys like you can get a cheap ride. I say we ought to have means testing for CMRTA bus riders. And I think guys like you should pay the cost of a completely un-subsidized ticket. Let’s save the subsidies for really poor people. Not zealots and pushy crusaders who really just want a cause to feel good about. Again, exactly why would you ride a bus when you could do something else, if not to give yourself something to crow about and parade around?
    Pay the full price Mike. Or at least advocate for means testing. It’s the honest thing to do.

  64. JJ

    Let’s take your example. Say that the county charged all 10,000 new homes with a $5,000 impact fee. The $50,000,000 road would be built. Now let’s say that the road has to be resurfaced every 15-20 years. Where does the money come from to do that? Same thing for all the new roads in the neighborhoods serving the 10,000 new homes. Those roads will be accepted and maintained in PERPETUITY! Where do you draw the line, and how much must you charge each new property for the road to “pay for itself?”

  65. JJ

    I am looking at all the comments on here. I can’t think of another blog post with so many public comments. Maybe the state should pursue this further. I would love to see a series similar to the one about North Columbia that explores nothing but transportation issues in the Midlands. Where are we? How did we get there? How can we fix it? What impediments exist? How can we prevent future problems? I think transportation is something that affects us all, but is also something we all take for granted. It would be a great series!

  66. David

    One final point Mike, and then I’m finished with you.
    If the demeaning and insulting things I’ve said to you and the aggressive tone I have taken with you cause any distress or anger in your heart, good.
    It was absolutely intentional.
    I hope the distress and upset you may feel about what I’ve said to and about you serve to give you just a little taste of the distress and upset I feel whenever I encounter nosy, pushy, holier-than-thou dweebs who spend all their free time attempting to tell everyone else what they should be doing and why what they ARE doing isn’t good.
    I hope I’ve caused a little coal to burn right in the pit of your stomach Mike.
    And I frankly enjoyed it, whether you got that little burn or not.

  67. chris

    You seem to be a bitter man. What happened in your life to cause that?
    Your words are a window to a warped soul.
    I feel sorry for you.

  68. Blogger

    Mike Montgomery made a huge mistake thinking he could have a civilized conversation on a blog.
    Mike is a thoughtful, considerate guy that is doing the best he can in a bad situation. He HAS to represent many groups…he does not have the luxury of representing only what HE wants.
    Bloggers are a selfish lot, rarely ever deviating from their long held opinions. Mr. Montgomery is an honorable man trying to reach agreement in a complicated world. These issues are complex, and depending on where you are in our society, urgent.
    Situations like this are why good and honorable people do not run for office. As Mr. Montgomery has just discovered, it is far easier to destroy something than to build something. There are those that believe America, with 325 million people in it, should be governed the same way as it was when there were 5 million people. Nuisance escapes them as they retreat to hateful statements or tired old ideological mantras.
    America is better than some of the hate displayed on this blog. Intelligent people should be able to disagree without being distasteful.
    Agree or not with Mr. Montgomery, that is your right. But to say that he is anything less than intelligent, thoughtful and respectful is be inaccurate.

  69. Mike Montgomery

    I’m not sure who “Mike M” is. I fear that is trying to create confusion on this blog. He is not me. I only post under my own name. So those of you who think he’s me — it’s not. If you’re attacking him thinking its me — not the case either. Thanks to those who recognize that I’m trying to facilitate a civilized fact based discussion of what I believe is a community problem. There have been some valid criticisms of government and the CMRTA. However, we need to remember that if we damn anything because of what has happened in the past, there are no second chances or opportunities for improvement.
    I urge everyone to consider the opportunities that being a leader in an area (like public transit and a real multimodal transit system) can have for our community. All of you who criticize the way that growth has occurred — this is an opportunity to influence future growth patterns too. We know that we have problems that have been created by the way things were done. If we don’t change those things, the problems won’t go away. One of my favorite quotes is “idiocy is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results”. I’m trying to work to make local government different. This is one small way. It should have been addressed before 2002 when SCANA was allowed out. It should have been addressed every year since. An effort was made in 2006 which has yielded a plan. I hate the fact that our Council didn’t have enough trust in the public to give you all a chance to learn, comment and vote. Unfortunately that means it will be more time before the problem can be addressed. I recognize that some of you don’t see a problem. That is your right. But I hope that you’ll recognize the value to a community of giving the public more than one way to get to work, and recognize that in SC one of the leading causes of unemployment is lack of transportation. It’s very hard to work if you can’t get there. I have many small business clients that lament the difficulty of their employees getting there. For folks trying to work up to living the American dream — a vehicle isn’t always immediately attainable.
    Likewise, more traffic only means more roads — at a very high initial and upkeep cost, so the idea that there is no savings in a workable public transit system doesn’t compute.
    It’s not about Brad Warthen getting to work. It’s about creating opportunities to improve our community, our air, our job and employment possibilities and many other things.

  70. David

    I don’t buy it Blogger:
    Mike Montgomery apparently likes to take the veil of “civilized conversation” and use it to cover his supercilious criticism and pretty obvious dislike for anyone he doesn’t think is riding the bus as much as he would like.
    Someone else asked in a snide and satirical way when we “rich and famous people” would realize gasoline was too expensive and start riding public transportation.
    I responded with an equally satirical response that really was the truth: Cars are still economically competitive with buses when gasoline is at $5 a gallon, AND cars are hands down safer and more convenient than are buses.
    I wasn’t even talking to Mike.
    Then HE chimes in uninvited with his snippy little post about “not taking me seriously” and all that other blather he thinks is important.
    I was angered. And I took him to task for it. If he or you can’t take it, tough. As for civilized conversation, I say bullsh*t. He’s not attempting to be civilized at all: He’s one of these guys who takes a very soft tone and tries to look like a peacemaker and the smartest guy in the room, and all the while he’s really trying to gut you like a fish…and being all critcal of people who aren’t somehow living up to his bus-riding standards. I wonder what else he thinks we ought to be doing. Uh…no, then again I really don’t care.
    I think it is important that he, and you, and Brad and all the other bus crusaders know that there are people who vehemently disagree with you.
    Mike M doesn’t get a pass. He doesn’t take me seriously indeed. Who exactly is he again? Talk about not being taken seriously.

  71. David

    And I still think Mike ought to be paying the full unsubsidzed-by-the-taxpayer fare for his bus rides.
    Surely if the bus system is such a great thing he won’t mind paying his fair share along with all the other voluntary riders. Let’s stop the freeloaders and only subsidize the truly needy, and begin putting a little fiscal integrity into the system for he and all the other crusaders who ride buses on purpose because they think it’s “the right thing to do.”
    Taxpayers (and I assume he IS one) are stretched to the limit right now. No more special deals for do-gooders like Mike. Let’s do means testing and sell subsidized bus passes to the needy and get the Mikes of Columbia to pay what they should have been paying all along.

  72. Chris

    You are worse than I thought. When you had a chance to reflect on your angry, hate filled statements, you decided to endorse them yet again.
    Anger is one thing. A black heart is another. I pity you.

  73. Doug Ross

    Don’t confuse the comments made by the anonymous poster “Mike M” with those of Mike Montgomery.
    Mike Montgomery at least has the backbone to stand behind his comments and present his view (which is admittedly far more informed than my own knee jerk reaction).
    I diasgree with him on most of the aspects of the proposed solution for a variety of reasons. But that doesn’t make his view, his goals, and his opinions unworthy.
    Unfortunately, having lived through the past twenty years of growth in the Columbia area, I have become very cynical when it comes to expecting the local government to do things any differently than they have in the past. The problems are too entrenched and the system is set up to depend on the apathy and ignorance of the general public to allow certain politicians to have far more control over policies that benefit themselves personally.
    We get the government we deserve. In this specific case, if we end up paying for an underutilized bus system, there is noone else to blame but ourselves. The same incumbents get voted in over and over… shame on us.

  74. Lee Muller

    —- maintaining roads ———————
    The state of SC maintains most of the roads in the state. A short multi-lane road like Hardscrabble would fall under such maintenance, because it is too sophisicated for county crews to maintain and requires letting a contract.
    The state collects a 16.8 cent per gallon gasoline tax, which is more than enough to maintain the roads. If not, it means the road lacks the traffic to justify its construction in the first place.
    All this was figured out years ago, and it works. Politicians today are trying to subvert conservative county and city government practices in order to encourage urban sprawl. Don’t get on their team!

  75. Lee Muller

    Everyone says the taxpayers “need” a bus system, or train system, or airport expansion needs to answer some simple questions:
    Why should taxpayers subsidize transportation which is so expensive, so underutilized and so wasteful of fuel?
    At what point of low passenger utilization would you admit that the project should not be funded?
    Charlotte only has 6,300 riders a day on a $500,000,000 light rail, even with taxpayers subsidizing 90% of the fare.
    Columbia’s busses at less than 10% capacity, even with taxpayers paying 80% of the fare.
    CMRTA cannot even provide the basic information to County Council and its study committee for them to know what to do.

  76. Doug Ross

    On WIS 11:00 news last night, they covered the bus situation and ended with a “fact” that ridership had increased by 4% in June.
    But we need to know what that 4% increase in real numbers along with the actual cost per passenger trip. Can we get those numbers?
    # of passengers
    # of unique passengers (might not be possible to determine that)
    total expenditures for bus system
    fares collected
    Those three numbers would be very useful in determining the value of the system.

  77. Lee Muller

    The fact that we don’t already have those numbers back to 1960 is proof that CMRTA and County Council are not serious about running a decent bus system.

  78. David

    Doug, I think you’re right. I have confused Mike M with Mr. Montgomery. I stand corrected. I presume that Mike Montgomery is a decent human being and offer my apologies to him for the mix up.
    To Mike M: Put your money where your mouth is Mike and start advocating for means testing for bus passes.
    Pay up! You’ve been riding on the taxpayers’ tit too long.
    Chris, is that black hearted enough for ya?

  79. Mike Montgomery

    Doug commented:
    “The problems are too entrenched and the system is set up to depend on the apathy and ignorance of the general public to allow certain politicians to have far more control over policies that benefit themselves personally.”
    I’ve been preaching on this. This issue, like many others is one that can only be objectively reviewed in context and with information. It is so difficult to educate the public (and keep them interested) about difficult challenges that we face. Where people vote their self interest, they play into the hands of the politicians who are happy to “deliver the goods” in exchange for their votes — or even more so, are happy to tell them what they want to hear and rely upon short memories come election time.
    I think that the only way to fix that is to have folks work to provide the facts and allow people to reach conclusions. I also feel like public officials have an obligation to consider those facts and make informed decisions about what they feel is most important for their communities — not what is best for them. Obviously, other than seeing the benefits of using transit to offset congestion, save on road construction and provide needed opportunities for people who want to work and need a way to get there, I have no vested interest in the process. If you review the plan, my district is not a beneficiary of any roads or other improvements — we’re 9 of 11 in that kind of funding. I represent a relatively “built out” area — growth has passed us — but we do have issues of revitalization and trying to develop creative ways to encourage people to stay and infill — rather than creating sprawl. I have many elderly constituents who I believe will benefit by a safe and efficient transit system. As I’ve said before, the plan ain’t perfect. And I agree with Doug — local government around here hasn’t given you a lot to have confidence in — but if we’re unwilling to move forward due to past issues — we aren’t going anywhere — literally and figuratively.
    I’ve watched the Charlotte light rail situation with great interest. We’re not ready to even think about something like that — although good planning might suggest that we think about dedicating right of way when roads are built or expanded — it isn’t going to get easier or cheaper.
    I don’t think we’re going to have a magic technology develop which is going to solve the oil situation — so we’re going to have to look to the future with the idea that we’re going to have to make some change. I think planned change is better, cheaper and more efficient — and we have to start — the sooner the better.
    During the debate on this, I reminded folks that every politician and pundit wants to say “if we’d only drilled 10 or 20 years ago for more oil” or “if we’d only addressed this ultimate problem then, we wouldn’t have it now.
    I believe that we must be proactive. We’ve already burdened our children with a mountain of debt as a generation — we need to start solving some of these problems.
    I think transit in Richland County is a small way to start. There have been some good thoughts presented like:
    all of the unused school buses
    using smaller vehicles to effect routes and occupancy and many others
    the study committee and consultants articulated many others too —
    but if we don’t take a step, we never have a chance to see.
    I’d hope everyone here will look to truly hold people accountable. As to what we’ve done on Council — one thing I can say, when we put the transit fee on the books, I committed that it would end in two years.
    It will.
    Just from some other thoughts — how would folks here react to a cut in the hospitality tax on the same referendum as this transit situation?
    I’m listening.

  80. Mike Montgomery

    One other thing:
    As a self proclaimed and lifelong Conservative, some of you may wonder why I’ve been involved and supportive of this issue — it doesn’t seem too much like my natural issue. I’ve been highly critical of SCANA, the City and CMRTA — I think that they all deserve criticism. SCANA was allowed to apply unbridled entrepreneurship to a regulated, monopolistic enterprise — but, when they were paying for the bus system in the area, the cost was being spread among all of their rate payers. (After all — as a monopoly, regulated by the PSC, they are guaranteed a profit — so their costs get passed to their consumers) When the City let them out (for a power plant)(and feeling good about the attention that I’m sure the elected officials and staff received from SCANA) the base from which to collect the subsidy for transit here became much smaller. Then other constituent governments (who have seats on the CMRTA Board) decided that control was great but they were unwilling to put there money where their mouths were. So 2 years ago, we had a crisis.
    That’s how we got here and how I ended up being somewhat of a transit policy wonk. Just as the press would say, “by way of background.”

  81. Lee Muller

    The Columbia bus system is WASTING fuel.
    It runs nearly empty busses all day and night.
    How low does ridership have to fall before politicians and other mass transit worshippers admit it is a failure and stop pouring money down a rat hole?
    We’re already subsidizing 80% of the ticket price. How about an experiment? Run the busses for free for a month. Let the media honchos who are so worshipful of busses and trains do their best to publicize it. Then we have a base of best case use of busses that are “free” to the riders, the most you can ever hope to get.
    But before you do, you need to define successful levels of ridership, and be ready to capture who is riding, and how far, etc.
    Then raise the fare to full fare and see how many ride, if you really want a shock.

  82. JJ

    Lee wrote:
    “The state collects a 16.8 cent per gallon gasoline tax, which is more than enough to maintain the roads. If not, it means the road lacks the traffic to justify its construction in the first place.”
    Perhaps you missed this week’s articles:
    The fact is, while construction costs have skyrocketed in recent years, the state’s 16.8 cent gas tax hasn’t changed in over 20 years. SC is also a “donor state,” meaning we send more federal gas tax money to Washington than we get back in return.
    The state builds new roads and adds them to the system, but can’t even maintain what it already has. Under a millage cap mandated by the state legislature, the county can’t do anything about these needs either.
    Since Lee and others on this blog support paying for what you use, and the gas tax is the primary source of roadway funding, how much are you willing to pay per gallon on top of the already high gas prices?

  83. Karen McLeod

    I’ve ridden good (as in it was easy to access, got me where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go there, and was easily affordable) public transportation in New Orleans 40 years ago (busses and trolleys, 200,000 people, and lots of riders, including those of us who had cars), in New York, in Washington, DC, and in Madrid, Spain. People weren’t and still aren’t perfect, but contrary to the horror stories urban legends generate, I was never particularly afraid. When you have a public transport that works, people choose to use it, because it beats trying to find a place to park, or burning your time driving, when you could be meditating/working/reading while they do the driving. I wish I lived in a town that had that class of public transport, and what I saw in N.O. all those many years ago, tells me that we can afford it, and that its worth affording.

  84. Lee Muller

    You are looking at this from a statist viewpoint, of what is the maximum taxes the taxpayers will tolerate. Of course most politicians would like to clean of the table and most bureaucrats would like to maximize the money coming to their fiefdoms.
    You are asking the wrong question about highway maintenance taxes.
    How much money is really necessary for maintenance of existing roads and for construction of new roads?
    First, we have to know how much surplus money the current fuel taxes are providing. Then we have to compare that with the existing roads we have and their life cycle maintenance plans.
    Oooops! The state DOT and counties have no life cycle maintenance plans. They don’t know how much financial liablitity they are facing.
    We probably have too many roads already.
    We could carry this privatization further, and make the developers and property buyers fund a maintenance fund for new roads enabling those new developments, in addition to the up-front share fees for road construction.

  85. Doug Ross

    I had a similar thought to Lee. Why not just make the bus system free? Then you don’t have to pay anyone to count money or sell passes or anything else related to the transfer of money.
    Another thought – build more large parking lots around the edges of the city and run smaller vehicles from the perimeter into the center of town, Five Points, USC, etc.
    Run it like the parking lots at Charlotte airport. Getting thousands of cars out of downtown would help things out considerably.

  86. Doug Ross

    For example, the old Sam Club location on Sunset Boulevard would seem to be large enough to handle hundreds of cars and is within five minutes of downtown, Five Points, and Broad River/Bush River Rd..

  87. JJ

    Isn’t your solution of forcing developers and property owners to fund all construction and maintenance costs up front “statist” as well? Only the government could mandate these requirements. I think it would be far more “statist” for the government to compel a developer to pay for public infrastructure by force of law. Requirements such as these would put such a burden on development that it would drive all investment, economic activity and jobs outside the county. Granted that would lessen our need for NEW infrastructure, but it would do nothing to help the county maintain EXISTING infrastructure.

  88. JJ

    And by public infrastructure, I don’t mean infrastructure serving just the neighborhood or development. I mean surrounding infrastructure that would be used for the public benefit.

  89. JJ

    The idea of a free transit system has been very successful in Clemson. Even though the population in the area is much smaller, the free Clemson system has just about as many riders each year as the CMRTA. This would work if USC was willing to get out of the transit business, and contribute student fees to the RTA for the provision of bus service around the university.
    Since fares make up so little of the CMRTA’s budget, the marginal cost to make the system free wouldn’t be that much. But since the existing system primarily serves the city, there will be an outcry in the suburbs. A capital investment in park-and-ride would open the system up countywide, and would probably make it a heavily utilized model for other cities and counties. And we would see a lot fewer buses riding around empty as well.

  90. Lee Muller

    Like a lot of liberals, you spend a lot of time speculating about why free market solutions wouldn’t work, when they already have been tried and have worked. The reason is you have no experience in construction, and think the way things are now is how they always were.
    They weren’t. As I explained, this massive taxpay subsidizing of urban sprawl is relatively new, on such a scale. Of course the developers and politicians like it – they are personally getting rich off taxpayer money.
    Paying for the costs up front is a lot cheaper than having government mismanage it and enrich a bunch of bankers by paying double the cost in interest.
    As long as we are going to have the county or state maintain roads, the developers are going to have to deed them over, after they pay the full up front cost of construction. The same is true for making them pay for sewer, water, and schools, up front.
    But the free market could take care of all of this. There is no reason for the roads, sewer, water, schools, and fire protection to all remain private property and privately operated.
    Some streets in Manhattan are still private, and the owners close them once a year to keep them from becoming public property through uncontested

  91. Lee Muller

    But the free market could take care of all of this. There is no reason for the roads, sewer, water, schools, and fire protection could not all remain private property and privately operated.

  92. JJ

    Since you have the issue figured out, I would urge you and your neighbors to petition your local city or county to take private control over your road. In fact, if all residents would do that then government wouldn’t have a problem meeting the county’s needs. Just remember, when it comes time to resurface it every 15-20 years, you and your neighbors will be responsible for the $300,000 to $400,000 price tag.
    And for the record, I am not a liberal; I am a card carrying member of the vast right-wing conspiracy. With a transportation background however, I just happen to understand the challenges related to transportation funding better than most.

  93. Lee Muller

    Don’t be an ass.
    Yes, I and a lot of other people have it figured out, we have seen other options work, besides what we have had in Richland County for the last 25 years.
    What is your “transportation background”, since you are insinuating that the rest of us are unworthy of challenging your narrow socialist “solution”, which obviously isn’t working very well?
    I happen to engineer intermodal transportation systems – civil, mechanical and electrical/computer control. If you disagree with an idea, or don’t understand a concept, any of us who are serious about transportation, sprawl and honest government will be glad to answer.

  94. JJ

    Libertarian rhetoric sounds good, but is of little practicality when it comes to public infrastructure and the nature of human beings. People (aka voters) want the government to stay out of their lives and wallets, but then piss and moan when the government doesn’t provide what they need when they need it (whether it is roads, transit, social services, etc.) You can’t have it both ways. The best politicians are the ones who can successfully navigate between these two extremes.
    It looks as though your background is in designing and engineering projects. My background is in prioritizing and trying to finance them. Both are equally important elements in public infrastructure.

  95. Lee Muller

    Where there the vast constituency clamoring for bus service?
    They sure aren’t riding, even with it being almost free.
    I don’t just engineer projects. I conceptualize them, do the economic justifications, the design and plan to meet the prioritized requirements which serve the needs of the customer. Then I manage all or parts of them. Others audit them for rates of return vs the proposals and plans.
    So far, no one had demonstrated any demand for bus service. The busses run empty.
    After decades of bus service, SCE&G and the new management cannot tell us anything about the rider demographics, route dynamics, true costs per passenger, per route, nothing.
    City Council and County Council appoint the usual commission, which issues a nice-looking report containing no new ideas, because CMRTA provided no meaningful data.
    So the councils just prop up the failed bus system with “interim funding” from extra money they claimed to not have, to pass the buck off to 2010.

  96. David

    Right Lee.
    It is a scam of biblical proportions.
    People like Brad Warthen get to toss around completely undocumented and unsupportable platitudes like “However we pay for it, we all need a better transit system” and yet none of the rest of us are supposed to ask followup questions like:
    -Says who? (besides crusaders like Brad and Mike M)
    -Upon what factual basis?
    -What does a rigorous cost/benefit analysis say about long term system viability and the degree to which taxpayers must support it?
    -Is means testing and subsidization of poor riders possible while ensuring people like Mike M (and others) don’t just ride around on the taxpayers’ tit?
    Then there is the other (really dark) side of the “mass transit mantra” which really amounts to nothing more than shaping and controlling public behaviour so that it fits the “vision” of do-gooders who insist that cars are the worst evil since Stalin.
    There is nothing wrong with automobiles. Period. I think Mike M’s main problem with them is probably that he can’t afford to keep one on the road, and his envy of those that can drives him to pester car drivers.
    Nope, there is nothing wrong with cars. There IS, however, something wrong and evil about people who just can’t resist the urge to control the lives and happiness of others.

  97. Lee Muller

    AMTRAK is a good example of non-riders like ourselves subidizing wealthy commuters from CT to Wall Street, from their $3,000,000 homes to their plush offices, at 25% of the real cost the fares should be. These trains are packed with some of the highest-income working people in the world.
    (I have lived and worked in Manhattan and Connecticut, by the way.)
    When I worked in Long Island in 1999, the same company which runs CMRTA ran the busses there, and I rode them, lots of times just 2 or 3 passengers – very inefficient.
    I asked the question, “How few riders do you have to have on a route before you decide to shut down bus service to it?”
    No answer.
    That indicates:
    1. No definition of success and failure criteria. Haven’t thought about it.
    2. No good rider data to know when they hit or miss targets ( if they had targets ).
    3. Don’t care. Hidden agendas other than public transporation.

  98. JJ

    The CMRTA does have service standards, but I agree that they do not do a good enough job of making those public or responding to inquiries.
    For the CMRTA, each route must sustain a minimum of 15 riders per hour. Any route that does not meet this minimum goes before the Board’s Service Standards Committee with a recommendation to eliminate the route.
    Using national standards, when it comes to level of service (LOS) standards for hours and availability of service, the CMRTA performs very poorly (D’s and F’s). This is due mostly to the availability of local funding. You can see more information in the county’s transportation study. (

  99. Steve Gordy

    Lee, since you “lived and worked in Manhattan and Connecticut” (where HAVEN’T you lived and worked?), you must be aware that most commuters from Connecticut into NY ride the MetroNorth line, a joint venture between the states of NY and CT. Amtrak carries only a small fraction of the daily traffic, almost none of whom are commuters.

  100. JC

    SC. Still stuck in arrogance and stupidity, with no vision and incapable of progressive thinking.

  101. Lee Muller

    CMRTA doesn’t keep good enough records to know if it has 15 riders per hour, according to the data given to the committee.
    That is a pitifully low passenger rate. A more realistic rate would probably be 15 passengers at any given time during 7:30 AM to 6:00 PM. Again, CMRTA can’t tell us what level of ridership it needs at the current fares to break even.
    And Steve, what point are you hoping to make? AMTRAK in the DC to Boston commuter lines is heavily subisidized by you and I.
    If other lines are providing service at higher fares, doesn’t show Doug and I are right about needless subsidies to government trains and busses?
    The basic question is what is the benefit to have busses in Columbia, and is it worth the costs? Not that I can see.

  102. Steve Gordy

    Lee, even Amtrak’s critics admit that the Northeast Corridor would be a money-making operation if it were a separate enterprise. Different parts of the country choose to subsidize different forms of transportation in different ways; transportation systems are for the purpose of making sure people and businesses can go from place to place. That’s about a legitimate public purpose as I can think of (read the Preamble of the Constitution for a hint as to why).

  103. Lee Muller

    Then why don’t they make money on it?
    Why don’t they sell it off?
    Why does Amtrak’s northeast corridor have to go to Congress every year for more subsidies?
    Public roads are a legitimate public work, pooling money for common good to facilitate unfettered commerce. Providing the vehicles at a discount is not.

  104. Brad Warthen

    As I dig my way back through e-mail from when I was gone, I run across this message from Mayor Bob, who was apparently put off by this column:

    Brad, between Robert Arial’s cartoon and to a lesser extent your Sunday column, the The State Editorial folks have left the impression that the City and Richland County are pointing fingers at each other about how to fund the RTA in the face of the referendum not being held. I hope that my comments to you and to The State reporter where I outlined the limited options that are available to local governments to fund the RTA -if we are not going to have a sales tax referendum- are not the source of the assertion that the City and County are pointing fingers. My intention was to point out that other than Richland County Council extending the vehicle registration fee, there are not many options to fund the RTA. Any other source of revenue requires a referendum or legislative delegation approval. The City could impose a vehicle registration fee in the City if our Legislative Delegation approved. That would mean the service could only be in the City limits and I do not believe that would produce an effective bus system. Using property taxes would require a referendum under State law and under the State millage cap a City or County could not raise millage to pay for the bus system. There was mention in The State today of using the hospitality tax but those taxes must be used for tourism related activities by State statute. After talking with a number of Richland County Council members I am certain that the RTA will be funded.

    Some might argue that the City should never have negotiated with SCE&G to release them from the franchise requirement of providing bus service. I would contend, and I think SCE&G would agree, that the old bus system was terrible and that running a transit system is a public function. Additionally, there is no doubt the SCE&G could have had their franchise obligations ended by State statute, just as the telecommunication industry was able to do. Finally, some have contended that the $71 million agreement the City reached with SCE&G was inadequate. I am certain that a better deal was not possible to achieve. Also, no matter what amount of money was secured from SCE&G at some point it would run out and a referendum for a sales tax or other public funding would be necessary.

    I am attaching the relevant portions of  State Statute Section 58-25-60 and Section 6-1-730 which cover the funding sources available for an RTA and for what hospitality taxes can be used.

    SECTION 58-25-60. Sources of funds; vehicle registration fee. [SC ST SEC 58-25-60]
    The intended mechanism for raising the necessary local funds to support the operation of the authority must be set forth in the agreement provided for in § 58-25-30. The declaration of intended sources of local funds does not preclude the use of other local, state, or federal sources which shall subsequently become available except for state highway construction funds which may not be used. The agreement may be amended specifically to recognize new sources. Local funds may be generated from the following source of revenue, notwithstanding other provisions of law. This source is not intended to be exclusive.

    A vehicle registration fee may be levied by the governing bodies of the member cities and counties on the motor vehicles registered within the service area of the authority. If this mechanism is used, the amount of the vehicle registration fee must be set forth in the agreement. The authority shall request the members of the General Assembly representing its service area to approve increases in the registration fee. Unless these members of the General Assembly by majority vote approve the increase, no increases may be imposed. This registration fee must be added to the personal property tax notice collected as a part of the personal property tax and the fee rebated to the authority.

    Property tax revenue must not be used to support operation of the authority unless the authority has been approved by referendum pursuant to Section 58-25-30. In areas with Regional Transportation Authorities in existence on the effective date of this act, a vehicle registration fee increase for the purpose of financing a Regional Transportation Authority must be approved in referendum by a majority of the electorate in the area to which the vehicle registration fee increase would apply.

      SECTION 6-1-730. Use of revenue from local hospitality tax. [SC ST SEC 6-1-730]
    (A) The revenue generated by the hospitality tax must be used exclusively for the following purposes:
    (1) tourism-related buildings including, but not limited to, civic centers, coliseums, and aquariums;
    (2) tourism-related cultural, recreational, or historic facilities;
    (3) beach access and renourishment;
    (4) highways, roads, streets, and bridges providing access to tourist destinations;
    (5) advertisements and promotions related to tourism development; or
    (6) water and sewer infrastructure to serve tourism-related demand.
    (B)(1) In a county in which at least nine hundred thousand dollars in accommodations taxes is collected annually pursuant to Section 12-36-920, the revenues of the hospitality tax authorized in this article may be used for the operation and maintenance of those items provided in (A)(1) through (6) including police, fire protection, emergency medical services, and emergency-preparedness operations directly attendant to those facilities.

    Bob Coble

    Here’s how I responded just now to the mayor:

    That was not my impression, or my intent. My only point is that whatever the obstacles, we need to solve this thing…

    (I just now went back and read what I said back then, and it seems to me I was even sympathetic to your position…)


  105. JJ

    Mayor Coble stated that “other than Richland County Council extending the vehicle registration fee, there are not many options to fund the RTA. Any other source of revenue requires a referendum or legislative delegation approval.”
    This is not necessarily true. A referendum is only required to use PROPERTY TAXES.
    This year, the city transferred into the general fund $3.5 million from the water fund, and $1 million from the parking fund. Neither of these are property taxes, and either one could probably be used to fund the transit system.
    The city could also dedicate all revenues from the sale of the former bus barn site on Huger Street to the CMRTA. This would be a good gesture, since the site was acquired by the city in its negotiations to take over the bus system from SCANA.

  106. Chris

    You seem to speak with such authority on this issue. What have you really done? I googled you and only saw a part of a resume seeking engineering work online? You have lived and worked everywhere yet never seem to have utilized any government funding, assistance or subsidy of any kind? As an engineer have you really never worked on a government project? Just wondering — I think that it is helpful when reading peoples expert opinions to understand their qualifications and expertise in the field.

  107. Lee Muller

    You didn’t google up my resume, because I never put it online. Yes, I have worked on government projects, such as new materials, composite structures and manufacturing processes for military aircraft.
    I have also done all sorts of logistics optimization since the late 1970s. I currently am working on several projects over $250,000,000 each, some in concept stage, some in justification and financing, some under construction, some fine tuning.
    My problem with the bus system, which I have used daily in years past, and criticized for decades, is that it has noe economic justification, no demonstated benefits, no ongoing analysis, no audits, not targets for continuing funding. In that sense, it is like most government programs, put into motion without proper justification, and kept on life support because no politicians or entourage has the courage to ask the tough questions.
    The attitude of Brad Warthen and Bob Coble galls me – that we should just keep looking for new taxes without asking for any corresponding benefits. That’s why we have so much garbage government. No business would tolerate such sloppy management, but that’s why these people aren’t in business.

  108. Chris

    Is this your resume or not?
    The more I think about someone in your field being a libertarian type, the more it galls me. There are few fields in which one can work that depends on the workings of government to insure that the field grows and is prosperous to those in it.
    The older I become the more I see libertarianism as a dodge…a bit of hypocritical sophistry which, in the end, says “what I am interested in is what the government tax dollars should pay for”…and what I am not interested in…well, it is not needed by anyone!
    I am happy that our society is not run by you guys. While we are far from perfect, we are better than that.
    BTW…that resume’ reads a bit “thin” for someone with what appears to be the accumulated mass of all knowledge between your ears.

  109. Lee Muller

    A lot of civil engineers do depend on government for work, for permits, for licensing, for funding….so they are intimidated into remaining silent. “You don’t criticize my taxpayer-funded project and I won’t criticize yours.” I think that’s unprofessional.
    If you don’t understand that libertarianism is based on the laws of economics, then I see why you might be confused by the politics. Libertarianism is a fundamental foundation of American government, as it was designed by the founders. It’s not about “balancing”, or selfish squabbling over tax money. Americanism seeks to eliminate graft and corruption by limiting government to only those things which can never be properly done by private enterprise.
    Busses, trains, airlines, and steamship companies can be, originally were, and are best provided by private enterprise. If it won’t make a profit, it means there is not enough demand from the public.
    I didn’t click your link, because
    A. My resume isn’t on the Internet.
    B. If a resume is “thin”, it can’t be mine.
    C. I am suspicious of links and emails from people who blindly defend government waste and corruption.

  110. chris

    1. Your resume is on the web whether you admit it or not.
    2. It is “thin”.
    3. I rarely ever defend the government, and am known for railing against government waste.
    4. Your theory about the “fundamental foundation of America” is crap.
    5. One thing I realize is one can never win an argument with a libertarian…so goodbye.

  111. Lee Muller

    chris, if you think you are qualified to make a comment on any part of the issue of a bus system, do it.
    … if you feel qualified.
    Why don’t you post your “fat” resume?
    Meanwhile, study up on the concept of limited government, of the people, for the people, and by the people.

  112. Lee Muller

    Well, Mike Montgomery got caught with Kit Smith, trying to hold a quick Thursday night meeting with no public notice to sneak through a sales tax increase.
    Business as usual, in the back rooms, kitchens, and bars, out of public view.

  113. Lee Muller

    I friend of mine clicked your link from the public library and tells me it does not show my resume or anyone else’s resume. He said it is a link to look at resumes posted to an HR recruiting site, where you have to have a paid access to confidential information on technology executives.
    Do you have a paid access to those resumes?
    Are you authorized to use it legally?
    I doubt you are supposed to spread around confidential information.
    Or were you just bluffing about knowing something you didn’t, again?

  114. Mike Montgomery

    You should check your facts. 5 members of council requested a special called meeting with public notice as required by FOIA. The sixth member failed to make the timely request so no meeting was noticed and no meeting took place. No one was caught trying to do anything sneaky. And the ordinance gave the public a right to vote on whether or not they wanted to enact a sales tax for a term to pay for public transit and other projects. So perhaps you should retract your ill informed and inappropriate comment.

  115. Lee Muller

    Mr. Montgomery, you were sneaking, and you failed. If you weren’t being sneaky, you need to stop and think about not looking sneaky.
    Hanging out with Kit Smith is not a good thing. She has a habit of operating in the dark.

  116. Mike Montgomery

    Mr. Muller:
    You’re simply mistaken. It is too bad that you let your desire to make me look bad interfere with the discussion. It is unfortunate that words with negative connotation seem to flow when you don’t like the facts — but that is why several have warned me off the blog.
    How you can be sneaky when you’re attempting to call a PUBLIC MEETING and notify everyone that you are and when you’ve publicly stated that you want to revisit the decision is rather bizarre.
    But, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion. I’m sure that you’ll post more so that you will have the last word.

  117. Lee Muller

    I no incentive to “make you look bad”.
    All I know is that you didn’t call this meeting in the manner of honest government, with lots of public notice.
    The bus system has been poorly designed and run for decades, and much worse since SCE&G gave it up.
    Council spent the outrageous sum of $500,000 on an analysis of a $12,000,000 operation, and got nothing of substance on how to improve operations.
    For comparison, I did a similar analysis of a $210,000,000 transportation system for $100,000 and delivered a plan which saved them $10,500,000 the first year. I just find the way governments waste money to be appalling.

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