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Rock Hill to get new mass transit option

Hoping to build on the success of the Dial-A-Ride van program, Rock Hill will offer a new public transit option to help people get to work.

Three buses in the Ride-To-Work program will run at peak travel times weekday mornings and afternoons, ferrying city residents for $2.50 each way. Passengers must book rides 24 hours in advance.

The new option within York County Access, scheduled to start July 1, won applause from mass transit advocates who have pushed Rock Hill to be progressive on transportation. With the city's unemployment rate above 20 percent, they say it's crucial to offer ways to connect people and jobs.

At Liberty Community Church at Green and Little streets, job-seekers use a computer lab to draft their resumes and search job listings. The problem: Many don't have cars, said Pastor Charles White-Kiser.

"If you can't get back and forth to work, how are you going to hold a job?" he said. "You can't be late but so many times. It's frustrating for a lot of people."

Rock Hill was awarded $410,000 in Recovery Act money to buy six vehicles - three for the new service and three to replace aging vehicles used in the dial-a-ride program. The grant also covers operating costs for the first year of service.

Former City Councilman John Gettys championed public transit during his eight years in office.

"This bus service is another example of us realizing our community has, for too long, lacked some basic resources," Gettys said Wednesday. "You're not sinking a bunch of costs, you're not having to create anything.

"You're just working to give people opportunities."

Now in its fourth year, Dial-A-Ride was started by York County for seniors who need rides to the doctor's office. More than 800 riders per month now participate.

The program is limited in what it can do for working people. Passengers must call two days in advance and can only make reservations for the next two weeks.

Safe, consistent transportation is a huge challenge for people trying to hold jobs, said Damien Ward, a career coach with Rock Hill-based nonprofit Carolina Community Actions.

Ward counsels youths ages 17 to 21. He has worked with five young people in Rock Hill who lost jobs because they couldn't get to work on time.

"Not everybody can do two days in advance," Ward said. "There is not transportation flexible enough to address that need."

Public transit is a touchy issue in Rock Hill. The city's last attempt, a bus service operated by the Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority, ended in 2001 after being roundly labeled a debacle.

Critics lamented poorly advertised stops and schedules during the Pee Dee authority's four-year run.

Rock Hill officials plan a marketing blitz to promote the Ride-To-Work service. Magnets, posters and brochures will be distributed to major employers, and paid TV commercials will begin airing in June. A $7,900 state grant is covering the cost.