The need to support public transit

OK, so it’s not exciting video, but I thought I’d help the Chamber keep this issue before you, because the need to deal with it remains. As a release from that worthy body notes:

Last week, York County said “yes” to another seven years of Pennies for Progress, the county’s 1-cent sales tax roads program.This is the third time York County citizens have voted favorably for a tax that supports infrastructure and road improvements in their county.

Last year, Richland County barely failed to pass such a referendum, thanks to the mistake of bringing it up in the year of Nikki Haley and the Tea Party (you know that band; they did that song “I’m Walking on Moonshine”).

Next year, it will be up again. It should pass.

17 thoughts on “The need to support public transit

  1. Bryan Caskey

    Taxes to pay for roads: Absolutely.

    Taxes to pay for a bus system: Ehhhh, that’s a whole other ballgame. I’m not a fan of the CMRTA as currently structured. It’s got too much waste and inefficiency to exist as it currently does.

  2. Steven Davis

    I thought the fine Richland County residents were paying for the bus system through a fee tacked onto their SCE&G bill.

  3. Josh

    I think the tax would likely have passed, if it had been solely for public transit, and not for a slew of other transportation-related projects. I have no doubt that council will keep pushing this tax until it passes, and in the meantime, we have a wheel tax and higher utility bills.

  4. `Kathryn Fenner

    @Josh–that’s the conventional wisdom.

    @Bryan–how do you get to a tipping point where “regular” people use transit, including tourists, w/o some waste–empty buses, say–How would you fund the system? What waste do you see?

    Derrick Huggins is an amazingly resourceful guy who calls it like he sees it, and he says there is not much waste and plenty of funding shortfall.

  5. Doug Ross


    What is the benefit to tourists for using a bus system in Columbia? Where would they be going? From the Vista to Five Points? There’s little downtown to attract tourists who would stay the day, traveling from one attraction to another.

  6. Steven Davis

    @Kathryn – What else would you expect the director (who’s there earning a large paycheck) to say? That there’s waste and plenty of money???

    Has anyone seen the buses lately? If there are 4 people on them they’re considered crowded. The bus system is just an extension of the great trolley system they had up until a few years ago.

  7. Brad

    Steven, the guy Kathryn is referring to is a temporary consultant manager on loan from the University. It’s not his job any more. It was his job to come up with an assessment for going forward.

    I regret that I never wrote about his final report. I was late and missed a chunk of that meeting, and was never able to get back to it to write a report on it. I should have.

    Also — the low-ridership argument doesn’t wash. People will ride a good system. We don’t have a good system. Currently, we can’t afford a good system. And an inadequate system is self-perpetuating. If it’s lousy to the point that only the most desperate people will ride it, then all the other people say “Look at the lousy system; I don’t want to pay for that.” And so it continues to struggle, or gets even worse, and everything just keeps sliding downhill.

    Personally, I’d like to see the penny (which we WILL pass eventually) devoted entirely to mass transit, turning it into a system that goes enough places often enough, and gets out the information about where it goes and when, so that far more people use it. And then we won’t need those road repairs so much…

  8. Bryan Caskey

    @Kathryn-I think if you’re looking for a time when “regular” people (I assume you mean people with cars)in Columbia are using buses on a regular basis, you’re going to be looking for a long time. Columbia isn’t populated enough (or compact enough) to have a use for the kind of public transportation that people with cars are going to find useful. Parking is plentiful, roads are well maintained, and Columbia is very spread out. Think of all the different little areas we have and how they’re not connected. (Vista, Five Points, Harbison, Northeast, Lexington). I don’t think we can ever make the bus system appealing enough that a 24 year old girl who lives in Shandon is going to take the bus to Harbison to buy something at the mall; she’s just going to drive.

    So where does that leave the Columbia bus system? I don’t know. Do we need something? Probably. We do have a segment of the population that depends on the bus for transportation. Do we need giant buses that we have now? I doubt it. I have never seen one of our buses with more than 15 people in it in about 4 years of really looking at the buses every time I see one. More often than not, the number is about 5. So maybe smaller buses would be less wasteful. Maybe different routes, maybe more/less frequency? What are we charging the riders? Is that reasonable? What kind of structural debt does the bus system have currently? How have other cities of our size handled this problem. I’d look at cities like Savannah, Charleston, Gainesville.

    All I know is that right now I see lots of empty buses, and the program is going broke. Something needs to change, and I don’t think the answer is going to be a magical increase in ridership.

  9. Steven Davis

    I’m well aware of who Derek Huggins is. Anyone who’s dealt with the USC Parking office knows who Derek Huggins is. He’s overpaid at USC and getting even more money with the city.

    I’ve lived in Columbia for nearly 20 years and if we currently have a lousy bus system, it’s been lousy since I’ve been here. Because it’s the same now as it was in the early 1990’s.

    I can just see it now, the penny tax will pass, a director will be hired with a six figure salary, an assistant director will be hired with a near six figure salary, each will be provided cars (can’t have the directors of mass transit riding the bus). Each will be provided staff at the $50,000 salary each. Ridership will still be a handful of homeless who’ve found an air conditioned place to spend the day. Columbia would save money by providing low-cost vouchers for the taxi cab companies.

  10. Doug Ross


    You got it exactly right. Brad and Kathryn employ the “Field of Dreams” mentality “If you build it, they will come”… when there is nothing downtown to justify more service than there is now and more to justify less (or none as you suggest with the taxi vouchers).

  11. Mark Stewart

    Columbia is so large it covers two counties.

    Until there is common agreement on the system’s needs – from both sides of the river – not much is going to change with the buses.

    It’s unfortunate that Lexington County remains resistant to planning (and funding) for the future. It’s as if people completely forget that the Town of Lexington had 3,000 people in the early 1970’s. Now the number for the same area is about 90,000.

    Times change. Maybe Bryan’s right; maybe what the two counties’ really need is an urban growth boundary?

  12. Steven Davis

    “If you build it, they will come”

    Like the InNoTenantVista buildings? But the schyster… err, director gave such a convincing sales pitch at Rotary!!!

  13. Doug Ross


    It COULD but they are spending $750,000 of it to renovate the Woodrow Wilson boyhood home and another historical building. $750K would pay for 75,000 $10 taxi cab vouchers.

  14. bud

    How about this. We could buy some inexpensive, small buses and set up a location for them to pick up passengers. Each would have a designated zone where they would deliver folks. One would go to Five Points. Another to Eau Claire. A third could head to Forrest Acres. Each bus would drop passengers off at a location of their choosing the same as a taxi. These rides would be paid for with hospitality tax money via a voucher system. This would be a sort of hybrid bus/taxi approach that would be less expensive than taxis but a bit more convenient than buses.

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