While it’s still unclear who will be running the Midlands bus system, The COMET is offering new routes and new rates in the Midlands in hopes of appealing to students as area schools open.
On Aug. 18, the COMET started the Garnet route, which will run every 20 minutes from the University of South Carolina campus to student apartment complexes along Bluff Road and will extend to the Olympia neighborhoods, according to COMET Executive Director Bob Schneider.
Another new route that will likely accommodate college students is Route 201, which will connect the downtown area to the Rosewood neighborhoods, according to Schneider. It will start in September.
The COMET will also be offering the Gamecock Express, which will provide downtown transportation on gameday to the USC stadium. A $3 ticket also includes a return trip at the end of the game. According to the COMET website, downtown stops will be made at Greene and Sumter; Lincoln and Blossom; and Hamrick and Rosewood intersections.
In the past, students haven’t been a big part of the system’s ridership. But the COMET now makes an explicit pitch to students on its website, catchthecomet.org:
“At The COMET, we feel your pain. Having a car around campus is expensive. There’s gas, parking, insurance and repairs, and living off mac-n-cheese and instant noodles can only do so much to help. So, for an affordable way to get around the Midlands Area, give The COMET a try.”
In addition to routes to the USC campus, The COMET also has routes going to Benedict College, Allen University, Columbia College, Lutheran Seminary, USC School of Medicine and Midlands Tech (both Beltline and Airport campuses).
Schneider says the bus system should also appeal to younger students who need transportation to local high schools, middle schools and elementary schools. Students 16-18 years old can get half-price tickets, and those under 16 can ride free, according to Schneider.
And students do not have to worry about the transit system shutting down on the holidays some schools don’t observe.
The system is offering bus services on Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day and New Year’s Day, holidays on which it previously closed. That leaves only two days a year — Thanksgiving and Christmas — without bus service.
The COMET has cut the price for all-day passes to $3 and eliminated end-of-the-line charges and transfers. Riders will also be able to buy five- and seven-day passes.
Meanwhile, the COMET board of directors is continuing a long and drawn-out selection process to determine what company should operate the system.
At a special meeting Aug. 13, the governing board once again voted to rebid the contract, which is valued at more than $7 million a year and would last for 10 years.
Veolia, current operator of the system, along with First Transit and Keolis, were the three finalists for the new contract negotiations that began in January, but the process was aborted for reasons undisclosed by the board.
Veolia’s contract was set to expire in April, but it has been renewed monthly as the contract deliberations have continued.
Board chairman Brian DeQuincey Newman says the new bidding process should take no more than three months.
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