How to fix the struggle bus

Greenlink bus system is working on improvements to make the bus accessible for everyone

Greenlink wants to make the bus accessible + reliable for everyone. | Photo credit: Pexels

What if you rode the bus because you wanted to, not because you had to? Greenlink is considering major changes – right now, this is what the numbers are telling them.

In 2015, 3,500 community surveys sent out by Piedmont Health Foundation found that 52% of GVL residents are sometimes unable to drive because they can’t afford gas or repairs.

But the public transportation system isn’t meeting their needs, either – for 72% of residents, bus service doesn’t go where they need to travel.

And a new 2020-24 Transit Development Plan presented to Greenlink’s board just last Thursday showed how Greenville’s bus service is struggling compared to neighboring cities:

  • We have 20 buses at maximum service, while Asheville has 16 – but our population is 400,492 and Asheville’s is 280,648
  • Columbia has 54 buses, and Charleston has 97 (they both have populations a little under 550,000)
  • Greenlink operated 69% less vehicles than peer cities at peak service

What needs to be done?

Increase funding for public transit. About half of the comparison cities were 50% funded locally, while Greenlink’s local funding only makes up 11.2% of its budget. We’re relying way more on federal funding – about 50%.

Greenlink also gets 95% less state funding than peer cities.

Sales tax and property tax were recommended last week as possible ways to generate funding for Greenlink improvements, based on similar programs in Charleston + Baton Rouge. In 2016, Charleston passed a referendum to increase tax by a ½ cent until 2042 or until $2.1 billion in funding is generated, with $609 million towards transit.

Increase coordination between planning, public works and transit. Better coordination means improvements can move through the approval pipeline + be implemented more quickly.

Establish alternative transportation services, like a volunteer or ride-share service.

Speak up for mobility. Get comfortable riding the bus when you can all you have to do to find a route is look up where you want to go in your maps app + hit the bus icon. (Or try one of the Piedmont Health Foundation’s bus field trips on Feb. 15, Mar. 1 or Mar. 15 for $3, lunch included.)

Stay tuned on our social media: we’ve all decided to take the bus soon, and we want you to get involved. If you live in the city, would you be willing to try taking the bus to work?

This is Greenlink’s current service:

  • 11 fixed routes (10 operate on 60 minute headways and one on 30 minute headways)
  • Weekdays: the first trip starts at 5.30 a.m. and the last one’s at 6:30 p.m.
  • No service on Sundays
  • There’s also the Greenville Area Paratransit (GAP, up to 3 vehicles providing service for those with disabilities) and the fare-free trolley downtown from Thurs. – Sun.

“We know that there is a problem and that the top request is to increase frequencies,” says Nicole McAden, Greenlink Marketing and Public Affairs specialist. “There is a low density of jobs and households in many parts of the county. That’s why it is hard to pick up a few people. Moreover, the number of riders decreased in 2017. We cannot afford replacing our buses and extending our hours with our budget.”

The 2018 budget summary: 5.4 million – buses cost in the hundreds of thousands. They’ve gotta break the cycle: to get more riders, more funding is needed to improve services; but to get more funding, riders need to increase.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t trying to solve the problem. Here’s what’s in the works:

Phase 1

A recent Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA) recommended efficiency improvements that are revenue-neutral (no need for more money, and no losses for Greenlink)

Route changes have been approved by the GTA Board: expect to see them by July 2018.

  • Bi-directional rides will increase 62% (you can catch the bus twice an hour)
  • An increase of transfer options outside downtown by 50% and an on-time performance improvement

Greenlink is exploring reloadable fare cards and mobile payment options (currently they accept cash + coins only)

Electric vehicle deployment thanks to $1.45 million awarded by FTA last September. This will replace at least 2 buses.

What’s Phase 2?

The 5-year Transit Development Plan, which creates a timeline for more widespread expansion (hours, frequency, new routes). Greenlink knows they need to be realistic, but they also want to address as many of the community’s requests as possible.

The plan presentation last week proposed the ideas above, but there are still unanswered questions: how effective could a sales/property tax increase be? Should Greenlink work on expanding local funding sources instead (like municipal bonds, payroll tax, or fare increases)?

On April 26, the board will meet again + the final 2020-24 plan will be presented. That same day, there will be a public meeting at the Greenlink Administrative Office (100 W. McBee Ave) to share the plan with all of y’all.

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