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Winthrop, Piedmont buy in on Rock Hill’s free bus plan. What they and the city get

The wheels on Rock Hill’s newest transportation plan keep going round and round.

The latest work includes $1.5 million from Winthrop University and Piedmont Medical Center toward the electric, free bus service expected to start running in April. Both agreements last five years, with options for two more. Winthrop will contribute $1 million, Piedmont $500,000.

The agreements allocate 30 percent of advertising space on the outside and inside of buses, bus stands, mobile apps and in-bus screens to the university. The hospital gets 15 percent.

Mayor John Gettys said both agreements are key for the new bus system.

“This is a serious commitment by the school, the university,” he said. “They’ll get a big benefit from this bus system as well, but having them as partners in this, as well as in many other things we do in downtown Rock Hill and throughout, .... really does allow us as a community to do more than we would be able to do.”

Piedmont, too, he said, is showing its commitment to Rock Hill.

“This will be a big deal for a lot of our people,” Gettys said.

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In early 2017 the city announced details of a new transit system aimed at connecting historic and growing areas along the Knowledge Park, Cherry Road and Dave Lyle Boulevard corridors. City leaders then cited a 2015 study where almost 80 percent of city residents supported a fixed-route bus service.

The vision was a service paid for through federal grants, city contributions and private partnership, not by riders.

Those partnerships include advertising.

Councilman Kevin Sutton said he isn’t a big fan of selling advertising on public assets, as has come up in conversation elsewhere related to school buses. Sutton said he’d like the city for find “the way we would tastefully” advertise on the new buses.

“I just don’t want these buses to look like NASCAR,” he said.

David Vehaun, city manager, said there won’t be a swell of advertising partners — by design.

“That’s better for the sponsors that do come in,” he said. “They get better bang for their buck, if you will. And we don’t just litter these things up with a bunch of advertising.”

Any other advertising partners will have to sign on quickly. Design has to happen ahead of bus painting “in just a couple of months,” with the buses set for delivery in February. Graphics have to be ready by mid-December. Buses won’t be updated within the five-year agreements, since repainting is expensive.

“The door is closing within weeks,” Vehaun said.

At some point the bus system will have permanent stops with covered shelters. Those sites will feature advertisers, as will several areas in and on the buses.

“There actually will be TVs on these buses, and so there will be advertising that would come up on those,” Vehaun said. “Again they’d be entitled to that portion of that, and the city as well. Obviously we’re a partner in this as well, so we would use it for some of our advertising, to help get our message out.”

What to call it

Katie Quinn, city spokesperson, said an internal group has been working to come up with a name, logo, graphics and other details for the bus system.

“A lot of what the transportation system will offer really depends on the perception that people have of it,” she said.

One option is “My Ride.” City council will have final say on what to call the bus system.

There is conversation about naming the buses and how those names will show up on signs and panels. Having a logo with destinations like University Center, Riverwalk, Fountain Park or Cherry Park is an option.

“This would be a good way to identify where the bus would stop,” Quinn said.

The new name isn’t likely to include the words “free” or “electric.” Those features are “very important concepts” of the plan, Quinn said, but the city doesn’t want to limit what could come later.

“We felt like it was important that the name didn’t inherently say that the bus system was free or that it was electric, to allow for expansion in the future,” Quinn said.

Along with not wanting to clutter the new buses with advertising, limiting partner sponsorships and advertising space on buses also could help avoid confusion, she said.

“We didn’t want these buses to look like they were Winthrop University buses or Piedmont Medical Center buses,” Quinn said. “We wanted to make sure people understood that it was public transportation.”

City leaders say they want everyone, residents and visitors, to enjoy the new buses.

“The main audiences that we’re looking at are Winthrop students and faculty, people without cars in Rock Hill, of course visitors coming to the sports facilities and then choice riders,” Quinn said.

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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