Greenville County Councilman Rick Roberts says the money the county provides Greenlink is a “disgrace.”
Roberts’ comments came at the end of a Greenville County Council work session where Greenlink director Gary Shepard told council members that by July 2021, the transit system will need an additional $1.5 million annually from the city and county to maintain service at today’s level because of diminishing federal funding.
Extending bus service to 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays would take $1.4 million more annually.
Currently, the county provides $451,223 a year for Greenlink operations. The city’s contribution is $599,098 plus an additional $480,000 in contributed management services. The city also earmarks $260,021 in hospitality tax money for trolleys.
Sixty-one percent of Greenlink’s routes are outside the city of Greenville.
“We’re not funding it to the point to where we almost ought to say we don’t care,” Roberts said. “We provide $400,000 to a history museum with stuffed pigs but we can’t fund our bus system.”
More than half of Greenlink’s funding comes from the federal government. A Piedmont Health Foundation study found that Greenlink receives significantly less money from local sources than its counterparts in comparable cities in the Southeast.
“Second to education, mobility is the equalizer in our society,” Shepard told council members.
With its current hours, Greenlink can get somebody with a second-shift job to work depending on where their employer is located, but can’t get them home. It can get third-shift workers home, but not to work, Shepard said.
“Are we going to where people want to go? No. Are people going to wait an hour? No,” Shepard said. Ten of Greenlink’s routes are run on 60-minute schedules. The other runs every 30 minutes thanks to subsidies by private partners.
The first five years of Greenlink’s long-range plan calls for extending weekday and Saturday service by 2020. The long-range plan calls for eventually adding Sunday service.
Greenlink’s long-range plan also calls for opening a new maintenance facility, something for which the bus system received an $11 million federal grant last week. The grant requires a $2.75 million local match. Shepard said donated land could be counted as part of the match. He said proceeds from the sale of the current maintenance facility on Augusta Street would be put toward the project’s $20 million to $25 million total cost.
Councilman Joe Dill, who said residents in his northern Greenville County district would love to find a way to work but buses don’t run there, said Greenlink could consolidate its maintenance facility with the county’s. “I’m having a hard time spending all that money to build a new facility when we have a facility. We might have to build a new wing, but that wouldn’t cost $11 million.”
Roberts said Greenlink doesn’t directly benefit most of the residents of his district, most of whom have cars. But, he said, public transportation is vital in a county that promotes itself as the “economic engine of the South.”
“My job is to sell it to them and have the guts to do that and not worry about getting re-elected all the time,” he said.