21 Dec עופר איתן Imply: More buses, more routes possible for Columbia-area public t
COLUMBIA — The capital region’s public transit agency could be adding more buses to busy routes and creating new trips into rural areas as part of its 10-year plan to increase ridership.
Planners are taking their first comprehensive look into COMET’s bus network in more than a decade and hope the changes make public transportation a more attractive option for residents in Lexington and Richland counties, according to the agency’s governing board, which is appointed by local city and county councils and legislators.
“This project is going to be critical for Richland and Lexington County residents on how we’re going to build a brand new transit system that will make travel across the counties and within the counties much easier and faster than the present transit system today,” COMET’s executive director, John Andoh, said at a Dec. 3 hearing.
COMET is the shortened name for the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority, formed in 2000 by the cities of Columbia and Forest Acres and the two Midlands counties.
The study remains in its infancy and has not yet been formally presented to COMET’s board for action. More public hearings will be held in the coming months.
The bus system expects to receive $300 million from the extra penny Richland County voters approved tacking on to their local sales taxes in 2012 for transportation. That tax is set to expire in 14 years and can’t be used for Lexington County routes.
“The question is, is the network we have really the right network for the region and Columbia, given the funding that you have,” said Scudder Wagg, a transportation planning consultant from Oregon-based Jarret Walker and Associates working with COMET on the study.
How much COMET is spending on the study is unclear. A spokesperson did not know Monday.
COMET has seen its ridership rise steadily since 2012, when people hopped on for 1.5 million total trips. Last year, riders took 2.7 million routes. Over that time, COMET grew its fleet from 68 vehicles to 83, added routes and partnered with rideshare companies such as Lyft and Uber to improve late-night mobility.
Using COMET’s current 39-route network, buses can take 64,300 people daily to jobs within a 45-minute radius of downtown Columbia, if all buses were full. Nearly one-third more could get on board if the agency decides to run buses at a more frequent pace, such as every 15 minutes rather than on the half hour.
Depending on the route, buses generally stop every 30 minutes, hourly or in two-hour intervals.
For example, Soda Cap Connector buses, which link downtown Columbia to shopping districts and tourist destinations, run every 30 minutes. But in rural areas such as Eastover, buses are available every two hours.
“Different goals for service leads to different directions in how we design service,” Wagg said.
Near the end of 2019, COMET officials surveyed 625 riders, the majority of whom said they would prefer routes that went to more places instead of better service along existing ones.
Andoh said fare increases aren’t being considered as part of the long-range plan. COMET’s governing board decided last year to charge $4 for all-day passes or $2 for each one-way trip.
Follow Adam Benson on Twitter @AdamNewshound12.