Infusion of city budget surplus money into Greenlink won’t expand service but will update fleet

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Greenville SC transportation
The City of Greenville's s total funding for transit is now $4,187,904 (including contributed services) this year.

If you ask Greenlink director Gary Shepard what keeps him up at night, he’ll answer it’s the moment in the mornings when the buses in the aging fleet are cranked, determining whether they’ll be able to leave the Greenville Transit Authority’s maintenance facility to begin the day’s routes.

An infusion of cash from the city of Greenville’s general fund surplus will help ease his concerns.

But the $1.25 million won’t do anything to expand service, something Greenlink officials and the community say is necessary to support the workforce in the city and county.

The local money, which still must be approved by the Greenville City Council, will be leveraged with state and federal money to buy two electric buses from Proterra, two 30-foot diesel buses, and three new cutaway buses, which are the vanlike buses that Greenlink uses for its paratransit program.

In addition, the money would overhaul 12 Greenlink buses to extend their useful lives for five more years. Each overhaul includes a new engine and transmission, new seating, flooring, paint, and video cameras.

Greenlink should have replaced nine of its buses in 2014, Shepard said. The problem with an aging bus fleet is not unique to Greenville. Shepard said there is at least $9 billion in capital needs for transit authorities across the country.

“The money from the city helps us immensely to update the fleet,” he said.

Doubling the size of Greenlink — increasing the frequency and number of routes — would triple the system’s annual operating cost, according to Greenlink’s Transit Development Plan. Capital costs would exceed $55 million.

Affordable housing, another issue attracting attention in Greenville, would get $1.4 million of the surplus. The money would go to the Greenville Housing Fund, the independent nonprofit fund the council established to help address the city’s shortage of more than 2,500 affordable housing units. The fund, which was launched as part of the community development financial institution Community Works, will provide equity funding for development and preservation of affordable housing for households with annual incomes of up to $55,000.

An additional $1.1 million will be used for neighborhood planning, traffic-calming, road resurfacing, sidewalks, and congestion management.

One million dollars would be earmarked for leverage for economic development projects such as providing matching funds if Greenlink gets a $15 million grant for a new maintenance facility, or work to link Salters Road to Mall Connector Road to relieve congestion on Woodruff Road.

The final $1.25 million of the surplus would be used for repairs to City Hall.

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