Feb. 07--The county and city of Anderson may become partners on a bus route that goes up U.S. 76 to Tri-County Technical College's campus in Pendleton and serves points in between.
City transit director Keith Scott and interim Anderson County administrator Rusty Burns revealed Thursday that both entities began staff-level talks about the potential route in late October. Both Scott and Burns spoke during a county council retreat Thursday at the Bleckley Inn in downtown Anderson. The topic was up for discussion because two county bus routes are in financial jeopardy.
Anderson County's 4U bus route -- which is run by the Clemson Area Transit system -- is about to run out of money. So is a separate county bus route that runs through Homeland Park, one of the area's poorest communities.
For more than a decade, the county has used federal grants to fund the 4U route, which takes riders from Anderson to Pendleton to Clemson for free. The most recent grant, nearly $3 million, was awarded in 2003, and has been used to fund the 4U and Homeland Park bus routes ever since. That grant will pay for the bus routes only through the end of June.
County statistics show that in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, the CAT bus 4U route had 148,608 passengers. The Homeland Park route had 38,351 passengers in the same period.
The U.S. 76 route is intended to be a partial replacement for the 4U route. Council member Tom Allen complained Thursday that the Clemson Area Transit system won't let Anderson County charge "even a nominal fee" on the 4U route. CAT buses don't have fare boxes.
In the new partnership under discussion, Scott said, riders would be charged the same way they are on other city buses. Adults pay 50 cents for a ride, while the disabled, elderly and Medicare card holders pay a quarter.
The bus that would serve that route would run from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, with its first stop at the Walmart on Liberty Highway and its last at Tri-County Tech's Pendleton campus. That's a 19-mile round trip, Scott said.
The city estimates that the route would have about 45,000 passengers annually and would cost $250,000 a year to run. That cost would be evenly split between the county and the city. Scott said the city would seek grants to cover its share.
The fares would give Anderson County an estimated $20,000 a year to put toward its $125,000 bill. Tri-County Technical College said last October that it would commit $50,000 toward saving the 4U route, and if that money is committed to the U.S. 76 route that would still serve its students, the county would be left trying to find $65,000 a year for the new route.
Further, if the city and county partner for a U.S. 76 route, the county would be obligated to pay for a new bus to serve the route in two to three years, Scott said. He said federal grants can cover 83 percent of the cost of a new bus, and the county would have to come up with the rest.
Burns said the county is still talking with "three other entities" to figure out if someone else can take over the portion of the 4U route that would not be served by the proposed U.S. 76 route. Likely candidates to pick up the slack would be in the city of Clemson or the town of Pendleton. Those areas are both served by stops on the existing 4U route, but would not get the same coverage in the proposed partnership between the county and city of Anderson.
Those plans still don't resolve the questions around the county's other route in jeopardy, which serves Homeland Park.
"We have to tackle one problem at a time," county council Chairman Tommy Dunn said Thursday. "This is a start."
Council member Gracie Floyd, the most vocal elected champion for keeping both routes, said she had hoped that the original CAT route would stay in place.
"I may have to concede that, but we do need someone who will serve us," she said. "We do have a problem and it needs to be resolved, because there are people depending on the buses."
The future of the buses has been under discussion for months without action from the council. Most recently, in 2013, the issue got stuck in the county's public works committee, which was then led by council member Cindy Wilson. Wilson's district, which includes Williamston and Honea Path, is not served by the bus routes.
In 2014, Wilson remains on the committee, but Dunn asked Floyd to lead it.
"There's no question that there's a need for bus service," Wilson said Thursday. Later. she added that it is "a delicate balance" to ask people who aren't served by the buses to subsidize them.
Wilson and her colleagues asked Burns to get them a document or a contract that lays out all the terms discussed at the retreat. Scott said the Anderson City Council has already seen a proposal, which was laid out during a closed-door session out of the public's view.
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