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SPARTA | Transit Updates

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An article in the Herald-Journal today informs us that ridership of SPARTA has remained the same, even in spite of the rising gas prices. This goes to show what I said in my last post- that the system is not very effective at getting people to JOBS. Its so ineffective that people are continuing to pay for gas and cont considering transit as an option. There are virtually NO choice riders in Spartanburg. The City Council is struggling to figure out how to pay for diesel (which is at about $4.50/gal.) which creates a $1 million funding gap this year.

"The city is requesting bids from transit management companies to operate SPARTA for up to five years. Scott said the city is required under federal mandate to request proposals every few years." This quote is probably not "news" in that whoever ends up managing the system will not be able to make any significant changes due to a lack of funding. The current operate does a decent job, but I ahve yet to see anyone suggest expanding the system to make it more relevant for more people.

The City is considering the following to address this situation:

[*]Reducing weekday or Saturday service hours

[*]Eliminating specific routes

[*]Operate on an appointment-type service basis or operate on a

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The problem is that the routes take folks to the hospital and the shopping areas but not necessarily where the JOBS are.

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Exactly. But how will cutting routes, even if only to save money, solve the problem? IMO, the County should pass a 1/2 cent sales tax to fund transportation projects like Richland and Charleston have done. The money could go towards fixing roads like Highway 9 and accelerating other transportation projects around the county (like greenways, rail trails, bike lanes/paths, and sidewalks).

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Geez Spartan, not another tax/fee. Is that your answer to solving every problem? I would think that being a city planner would make you think in the exact opposite manner. If there are not enough people riding and the program already operates at a deficit, wouldn't the correct thing to do be either discontinue the program or cut slow routes out and focus on the more popular routes?

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No, its not my answer to everything. Unfortunately transit is not a "for profit" operation. There is no transit agency in the nation that operates solely on fare-box revenues. I very firmly believe that government has certain key roles, one of which is transportation. Any good conservative or libertarian will argue that government should be responsible, at a bare minimum, for emergency services (police/fire/ems), the military, water/sewer service, and transportation. In fact, transportation is one of the few things that all citizens agree that the government should be responsible for and often complain that they don't do enough towards that end.

The fundamental flaw is when they assume transportation begins and ends with cars. It does not. Transportation is a system that includes cars, and also pedestrians, bicycles, and transit (buses/rail/etc). All modes of transportation must be accommodated to make a complete and effective system. In order to make that happen, we have to pay for it. The problem is that our County does not have enough money to keep up with the amount of growth that is occurring (thats why Hwy 9 is still just 5 lanes). So this presents us with 2 options. 1) Don't pay for new growth and rely on SCDOT and SPATS to continue widening roads and building other infrastructure (while ignoring transit). 2)Raise funds locally to provide a means to serve ALL modes and keep up with the burden that is placed on our system.

Taxes do serve a purpose and I do not blindly support raising them without any thought. I simply think that many of my fellow Spartans are so anti-government and anti-tax that they blind themselves from the basic purposes of government, and they don't allow for any productive use of public funds. I think that good local governments need adequate funding to function properly, and I am not afraid to vote "yes" for a tax increase when it is CLEARLY for the good of my county.

That is why I would be in favor of option 2. In all honesty if SPARTA had more money, it could have more lines that serve more people. This, in turn, has proven to generate economic development by allowing more people to have access to jobs that they would not otherwise be able to get to. SPARTA has about 542,000 riders a year, which translates to about 1500 riders per day, so 750 people 2 ways. Lets say that these people make on average $15k per year. That means that they are earning a total of $11.25 million that would otherwise not be in the economy. That, IMO, is worth their paltry $1.4 million budget. In many cases the benefits of transit often outweigh the costs, its simply that the benefits are indirect.

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That's why the system should go private as someone would figure out a way to make it profitable as well as keep the system in place. How long has the government been propping up Amtrek? Is this a form of transportation that government should be responsible for? I call it a drain on my tax dollars. If you were to allow transportation pros like Norfolk Southern to operate it it would stand a better chance on running at a profit. The same can be said for SPARTA. What if SPARTA or the city council turned to someone like James Atchison (who owns the local charter service) for advice on making SPARTA work. I think this would be a step in the right direction. However I'm sure those knuckleheads in city council would again feel intimidated that they have to get outside or private advice to solve one of their problems and probably wouldn't go for it. Another problem as mentioned earlier is that the routes simply do not go where the jobs are. It would be interesting to know how many people per day ride each route. Is this info available?

As for the roads and Highway 9, isn't the $25 road "fee" supposed to go to this upkeep?

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Its easy to say it should go private, but don't you think that sometime in the past 100 years or so, someone, somewhere would have figured out a way to do it if it were possible? Would you argue the same thing for roads?

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Well, if the city never put it out for bid, how would anyone know this was what they wanted to do? I'm sure anyone that has ever inquired has simply been told, "No thanks, we have it under control". This is what has brought things to this point. I am sure there is a ton $$$ that is simply mismanaged by the city and the county and this is why it is en vogue to simply pass along an additional fee to the public because these idiots can't stick with a budget.

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While I have no doubt that there is some mismanagement of funds, you can't always assume that is the case 100% of the time, nor can you assume that if it were managed better there would be enough "recovered" money to do everything that needs to be done.

It would be interesting to know how many people per day ride each route. Is this info available?

SPARTA is a public agency, so you should be able to call up someone, or email them, and they should provide it for you.

As for the roads and Highway 9, isn't the $25 road "fee" supposed to go to this upkeep?

No, Highway 9 is a state highway, so its upkeep is SCDOT's responsibly. I assume that coordination with SPATS occurs at some level (though I have no idea what level).

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That's why the system should go private as someone would figure out a way to make it profitable as well as keep the system in place. How long has the government been propping up Amtrek? Is this a form of transportation that government should be responsible for? I call it a drain on my tax dollars. If you were to allow transportation pros like Norfolk Southern to operate it it would stand a better chance on running at a profit. The same can be said for SPARTA.

I'm not aware of any transit companies that generate profit without being subsidized ala Amtrak... even in Europe. That's not to say that there aren't things that could be done better, or that privatization is a bad idea, but I think it is a stretch to expect a private company to just step in and make money without being subsidized.

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Well hopefully the same old, same old ideas are on their way out both in Washington and other cities around the country. Local governments need to think outside the box as problems are coming (some are already here) that have never had to be faced before. High energy prices are here to stay and unless something changes soon the next fight is going to be over water and who gets what and how much.

As for the transit system, maybe someone needs to put a bug in city council's ear that maybe, just maybe if we put the management of the system out for bid somebody might bite and have newer and better ideas for the transit system as a whole.

Just my .02

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There are some transit systems that are for profit, but they are all Asia.... cities like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo that have higher densities than any city in SC.

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SPARTA is going to offer free rides in an attempt to boost ridership. Its a good strategy, but IMO the one major thing holding back SPARTA is that the city is just not set up for transit. The jobs are spread out and the places people need to get to are not convenient for transit. A mature transit system is, unfortunately, a long way off.

HJ Article

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The City and USC Upstate are likely going to start a new bus service to transport students from the main campus to the downtown campus. Council votes on it tonight, but I think this is a no-brainer. I can probably guess who will vote against it though.

HJ Article

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The City and USC Upstate are likely going to start a new bus service to transport students from the main campus to the downtown campus. Council votes on it tonight, but I think this is a no-brainer. I can probably guess who will vote against it though.

HJ Article

Who?

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The new SPARTA route passed. They did not specify who voted for or against it, but usually it is Dogan and Spigner that vote against things that make sense.

HJ Article

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I found a good article about the possibility of regional transit cooperation in the Upstate. It's just an idea for now; nothing concrete. Some positives mentioned were possible availability of federal funding for a regional bus system, and of course better connections between the major cities in the Upstate.

GSA Business article

I'd love to see this happen. I'm glad that the idea is at least being tossed around.

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I like the Greenville and Greer mayors. They are speaking the right language. Until Spartanburg and Greer have stronger downtowns or at least a significantly dense population of businesses or residents, the BRT concept probably won't go very far. As they noted, Charlotte was able to expend its system to rail in part because of its high quality bus service- something that is noticeably lacking in the Upstate (though I give props to Greenville for its Greenlink system).

Thanks for posting that article!

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