The Greenville Transit Authority (GTA) has finalized the 2020-24 Transit Development Plan (TDP) study of the Greenlink transit system. The goal of the study is to create a plan to improve the Greenlink network so that it is more useful to residents in Greenville County. The plan identifies potential expansions in fixed route bus service, estimates the cost to implement these expansions, estimates the potential ridership gain that would occur from such expansions, and lists possible funding sources to be explored. The need for service expansion has its roots in the Greenlink Comprehensive Operations Analysis (COA), which was completed in August 2017, but the COA recommendations were cost neutral, meaning that all changes were made using only existing operating funds.
The COA was an eight-month study of the efficiency of Greenlink’s existing system, and made recommendations on how to improve productivity without requiring an increase in Greenlink’s budget. Three noteworthy findings from the study include: 1) Greenlink uses its limited resources more efficiently than its peers based on its low cost per peak vehicle, cost per revenue hour and cost per revenue mile; 2) with the restriction of remaining revenue neutral, the best way to impact efficiency in service is to offer bi-directional routes, meaning the bus services both sides of the road, rather than loop routes; and 3) Greenlink’s maintenance facility is too small to adequately serve the system. After careful analysis of service delivery options, the consultant recommended that Greenlink:
- Continue to operate a pulse system, meaning all buses arrive and depart from the Transit Center at the same time, due to the fact that 83% of transfers are occurring cross-town (indicating downtown is an efficient transfer location)
- Continue to operate at the 60-minute frequency, as financial resources do not allow for higher frequency service at this time
- Convert loop routes into bi-directional routes (the bus services both sides of the road) where possible to do so without degrading service
The route changes proposed in the COA are slated to go into effect summer 2018 and are expected to improve Greenlink service in the following ways:
- Bi-directional route miles will increase by 63%
- The number of route connections outside of downtown Greenville will increase 50%
- On-time performance will improve
While the COA’s improvements serve as a vital foundation for improving public transit in Greenville County, they don’t prioritize service expansions that would require increased investment from our community. This brings us back to the purpose of the Transit Development Plan (TDP). Two main recommendations came from the TDP’s service improvement analysis. The first recommendation is to introduce span and frequency improvements to Greenlink’s existing routes. The consultants suggest the following order of implementation for service expansion: 1) Extend weeknight service to 11:30 p.m.; 2) Expand Saturday service hours to 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.; 3) Increase weekday service frequency from 60-minutes to 30-minutes; 4) Increase Saturday service frequency from 60-minutes to 30-minutes; 5) Implement 12-hours of bus service on Sundays.
The second recommendation in the TDP is to expand Greenlink service geographically. The consultants analyzed 23 possible new routes for Greenlink’s service, and of the 23 routes evaluated, 19 are included in the final report as recommendations for implementation – which include a Mauldin connector route, a Fountain Inn connector route, and an I-385 commuter route servicing park and ride lots in Mauldin and Simpsonville. While the recommendations include a proposed timeline for implementation, carrying out the changes will require further financial investment. According to Gary Shepard, Greenlink’s public transportation director, community buy-in and support from the public and private sector are crucial components of implementing any improvements. “After nearly a year of planning, with the Comprehensive Operations Analysis and now the Transit Development Plan, we feel confident that we know what it will take to create a better public transportation system in Greenville County,” said Shepard. “The next step will be determining if these improvements are a priority investment for our community.”
— Taft Matney serves in Seat 1 on Mauldin city Council. He can be reached at email@example.com.