Council votes in favor of proposed fee for bus system

By Tim Pulliam - email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Columbia City Council members are making a crucial decision Tuesday night affecting the Midlands' bus system. City council wants to charge you a fee to save it, and are holding a public hearing on the issue.

The bus system is struggling to stay afloat. If it doesn't get the money it needs, it could potentially shut down. That would affect everyone in the Midlands.

To keep the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority running for another year, leaders estimate they need $6 million. The city proposes filling a portion of the gap with a 2 percent increase in your power bill.  

If the hole isn't able to be plugged, CMRTA threatens to slash operating hours, jobs and bus routes, cutting an important route Tamara Jones depends on. "How am I going to get to work?" Jones asked. "I need it. Not everybody can afford a car, not everybody can afford riding with somebody." 

The issue of cutting bus routes affects more than just bus riders -- area employers, too. The top chef at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center says 60 percent of his kitchen workers depend on the bus system. "it's a crucial situation," he said. "At any given time we could feed 2,000 people, and I am relying on people to get to work and be on time."

One by one, they stepped to the podium defending their position on the franchise fee. "We're going to have to come up with real solution by coming up with solutions for the people," said one person.

Those against the two percent hike said the increase would be an out-of-pocket expense for everyone, with the poor hardest hit. Others told council members they had no right passing the responsibility to taxpayers.

"The intrusive behavior to force a franchise fee is reprehensible," said another commenter. "Above all, that act breaks God's moral code 'thou shall not steal!.

But some neighbors and business owners see the fee as a way for every one to support the struggling bus system. "With the franchise fee, every household will be contributing equally to CMRTA's success," said one commenter.

To keep the bus system from failing, city council voted 5-2 for the fee hike. Leona Plaugh and Daniel Rickenmann voted against it.

It's projected to bring in $3 million a year. That money will be added to the $3 million Richland County leaders are still trying to raise.

For now, Tuesday's approval will help keep the busses running through September.

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