Route reductions coming for Midlands bus system due to budget, officials say

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The COMET provides nearly 2.6 million rides to residents in greater Columbia each year, but budget restrictions will result in a 2 percent reduction of services beginning in May.

Samuel Scheib, director of planning and development for COMET, said the board of directors recently set a spending limit of around 187,650 hours of service per year through the year 2029.

As a result, the budget is about 2 percent less than in years past meaning some reductions will be necessary.

"We run service later in the evenings and people essentially vote by boarding," Scheib said. "You can look at the number of people boarding per hour and see if you're putting a lot of service out there and people aren't using it, it can be used elsewhere."

Scheib said COMET plans to cut back on the number of service hours in the late evening and add them to morning commutes.

"The main thing is in those evening hours, instead of having two buses running on your service you might just have one," he said. "So it would be hourly rather than coming every 30 minutes."

COMET is also working to create two more express routes. According to Scheib, the board of directors already approved a route that would take riders to Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge Hospital beginning in May.

"We're going to be extending services if it's approved to parts of the northeast that we've never served before," he said. "Especially Summit Parkway, Clemson Road, the Killian Road Walmart, and places like that."

Scheib did say reductions will result in the elimination of Route 22.

"We're finding that our other coverage is siphoning riders off of Route 22 and its costing $275,000 a year to provide service to that route," he said. "We want to take those service hours and apply them other places that can service more people and help them get to work."

The COMET relies heavily on the county's transportation penny tax enacted in 2012. Without it, Scheib said it wouldn't be able to offer the services it currently does.

"A little more than 25 percent of the penny tax goes to the COMET," he said. "That funds our operations but it also funds some of our capital projects. It's absolutely vital to our existence."

For a link to all COMET routes and to learn more about potential schedule changes coming this May, visit http://catchthecomet.org/routes/

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