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On-demand transit makes Rock Hill debut

Larry Finch of the York County Council on Aging demonstrates the new York County access vehicle Monday at the Baxter Hood Center at York Technical College.
Larry Finch of the York County Council on Aging demonstrates the new York County access vehicle Monday at the Baxter Hood Center at York Technical College.

It took more than a year of bickering, public rebukes and bureaucratic delays, but a transit service aimed at helping the elderly is ready to debut in Rock Hill.

Supporters are counting on the van-on-demand program to fill what they say was a missing link in the city's social service network.

"These things, many times don't happen easily, and they don't happen quickly," Mayor Doug Echols said. "But they eventually get there. We get to these kinds of days because we work together."

The good feelings exchanged at a kickoff event on Monday were a sharp contrast to last May, when City Councilman John Gettys chastised his colleagues for being slow to come around to embracing the transit idea.

"Where's our conscience?" Gettys asked after a meeting. "Ten thousand people living in poverty, and we're more concerned about what's happened in the past. We're up here to be leaders."

Skeptics had pointed to the city's failed experiment with the Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority, a bus service discontinued locally in 2001 after being roundly labeled a debacle.

This time, backers say the on-demand program has a narrower focus that makes for a safer investment. Plus, it's already being provided elsewhere in York County.

"Think for a minute how your life would be different if you did not have available, ready transportation," said Kim Keel, director of the United Way of York County. "Every community I'm aware of that's trying to move people out of poverty ... has had to tackle this important issue."

Under the program, passengers can call two days in advance to reserve rides anywhere in the city or county for one-way fares of $2.50. The service is open to anyone, but seniors are viewed as the target audience because they often don't drive or can't afford cars.

Since April 2006, the transit service has been available only to residents living in the rural parts of the county because Rock Hill City Hall hadn't paid to become part of it.

The kickoff comes less than a month after the United Way unveiled another initiative aimed at helping low-income families.

The 2-1-1 service lets callers dial 2-1-1 to reach a call center in Columbia, which can route them to agencies where food, shelter, rent and utilities aid and treatment for substance abuse are offered.

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