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Transit service catches on

York County dial-a-ride passengers load a bus at the senior center on Johnston Street in Rock Hill in July 2006 . The county program began that year, and the city of Rock Hill started a similar program in 2007.
York County dial-a-ride passengers load a bus at the senior center on Johnston Street in Rock Hill in July 2006 . The county program began that year, and the city of Rock Hill started a similar program in 2007.

A transit service aimed at helping the elderly get to doctors' appointments has shown steady gains in ridership since its debut in Rock Hill last year. Now, supporters are using it to plot their next steps toward a bigger system that would make regular stops at key points in town.

It took more than a year of bickering and bureaucratic delays to launch the dial-a-ride program inside the city limits. New figures show that passengers have needed far less time to grow comfortable with the system, now called York County Access.

The program started with 24 passenger trips in August, then rocketed to 112 trips as more people learned about it in September. By November, 333 people relied on the service to get to check-ups, grocery stores, pharmacies and other destinations.

"I've had lawyers' appointments, doctors' appointments, pretty much anything to get me back to the main part of town," said Kay Beach, who lives in the Manchester Village area. "I'm wondering why it took Rock Hill so long to get its act together."

Buried in the ridership figures are some surprising trends. For example, 40 percent of riders used the service to get to work -- despite the fact that it has been marketed almost exclusively to elderly people, not hourly wage-earners.

That's where transit backers are looking to make their argument for an expanded effort.

"There's either a bigger market that would make more use of this, or possibly an area of town that would make more use of a fixed route," City Council member John Gettys said last week at a planning retreat.

What's a fixed route?

Instead of requiring riders to make reservations in advance, a fixed-route system would make regular stops along heavily traveled corridors. A continuous route between downtown and Piedmont Medical Center has been mentioned most often.

It would hit a number of working-class neighborhoods, social service agencies and medical offices separated by a relatively short distance.

Under the dial-a-ride program, passengers must call two days in advance to reserve rides for one-way fares of $2.50. It's open to anyone, but seniors are viewed as the target audience because they often don't drive or can't afford cars.

A move to start regular buses would likely generate controversy. That's because 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.

PDRTA, actually the third failed system in the past two decades, was marred by what critics said were poorly advertised stops and schedules during its four-year run. Seven years later, supporters believe the success of dial-a-ride signals a stronger foundation for another try.

WANT TO RIDE?

Rides must be scheduled at least 2 days in advance.

To reserve a ride call 327-6694. Clover residents can call toll free at 1 (866) 607-1910.

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