The leader of the Downtown Transportation Coalition, a group of downtown businesses pushing for better public transportation, says all eyes are now focused on the Greenville County Council.
“We’re encouraged by what we see from the Greenville City Council and Mayor Knox White,” said Jon-Michial Carter, CEO of ChartSpan Medical Technologies and organizer of the coalition. “Now, all eyes are on the county as we wait and watch to see where the leadership will come from. We’ve got to get County Council’s attention.”
Greenlink director Gary Shepard recently told the County Council 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 levels because of diminishing federal funding.
Extending bus service to 11:30 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays would take another $1.4 million annually, Greenlink officials said. Greenlink’s long-range plan calls for extending hours by 2020. It also calls for eventually adding Sunday service.
The plan to ultimately expand service to more areas of the county, improve bus frequency, and extend hours would require $5 million more annually — about doubling Greenlink’s current budget. That plan would also cost $7 million more in one-time capital expense for more buses.
Greenlink’s long-range plan also calls for opening a new maintenance facility, something for which the bus system recently received an $11 million federal grant. The grant requires a $2.75 million local match.
Greenville City Council took $1.4 million out of the city’s budget surplus for part of that local match, and another $1 million to help buy new buses and refurbish Greenlink’s existing fleet.
Members of the coalition say Greenville’s public transit system is inadequate to get employees to work and threatens the area’s ability to attract and retain businesses, especially downtown.
“I don’t think you can find anyone to say that we have an adequate system,” Carter said. “We’re going to run out of parking [downtown] and we have no viable bus system. How are you going to move the citizenry around if you don’t have places to park them or buses to move them?”
Earlier this month, County Councilman Rick Roberts called the money the county provides Greenlink a “disgrace.”
“We’re not funding it to the point to where we almost ought to say we don’t care,” Roberts had said.
According to a funding analysis prepared for County Council, the city’s revenue per capita is greater than the county’s due to the concentration of valuable mixed-use real estate in the city that is assessed at 6 percent as opposed to more residential properties that are assessed at 4 percent. The county receives no business license revenue and relies on property tax millage for budgeted operations and capital improvements.
The analysis said that if County Council wanted to increase funding for the Greenville Transit Authority, which owns Greenlink, it would have to reduce other county services or raise property taxes. The county has not raised property taxes in 25 years.