Proposal for Midlands' bus system funding would raise utility fee

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - It's on to "Plan B" when it comes to funding for the Midlands' bus system.

A new considered proposal would pay for the buses by raising the franchise fee SCE&G customers pay.

For most of the Columbia City Council, and much of the city's business community, funding the Midlands bus system is not just important. They say it's got to be done to head off an economic meltdown. "The city's main reason for taking this painful step right now is about the city's economic stability and vitality. The horrific proposals for service reductions scheduled to begin in April, and the collapse of the total system next October first, would bring our city to its knees," says Dr. Belinda Gergel of Columbia City Council.

"The Charleston model when they virtually shut down their public transportation system resulted in the loss of businesses, the loss of jobs," says Ike McLeese of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce.

That "painful step" that's being discussed calls for raising an existing franchise fee on monthly utility bills. For an average SCE&G customer, that would mean paying an extra $1.60 a month, which equates to a little more than $19 yearly. "Public transportation corridors are natural focal points for social and economic activities. They create strong neighborhood centers with cleaner air that are safer and are more economically stable," says Ryan Nevius of Sustainable Midlands.

Mayor Steve Benjamin says if the fee is approved, the city will work to make riding the buses a more attractive proposition. "It's not about subsidizing the same old bus system but finding ways to increase ridership dramatically," says Benjamin, "This will allow the CMRTA to begin to leverage more federal dollars they can use for capital expenditures and hopefully attract more people to a leaner greener bus system."

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