The success of the introduction of a dial-a-ride transit service to Rock Hill is something to celebrate. But we think the city can take its time in deciding how and when to expand the service.
The city transit service actually is a leg of a transit system that has been operating in rural parts of York County since April 2006. The county dial-a-ride system, operated by the York County Council on Aging, was targeted at elderly riders and is run primarily through federal funding.
In November 2006, the City Council approved a plan to develop a transit program for Rock Hill that would be aligned with the county system. Although initiating the city system took several months -- with some angry exchanges between city and county officials -- the system was up and running in August.
Ridership has steadily increased ever since. A modest 24 passenger trips in August increased to 333 in November. Ridership dropped to 217 in December, but officials say that is common around the holidays.
Riders have used the transit system to meet doctor appointments, go grocery shopping or just have a day on the town. Surprisingly, however, an estimated 40 percent of riders have used the service to get to work -- despite the fact that the service is aimed at elderly riders, not hourly wage-earners.
In a sense, that is welcome news. It means there may be a market for mass transit among younger people, not just for the occasional trip to the grocery store but also for the daily commute to work.
That indicates the city might soon have the critical mass of passengers to support a fixed route bus system. Instead of requiring riders to make reservations in advance, as the dial-a-ride system does, a fixed-route system would make regular stops along heavily traveled corridors and areas convenient to commuters.
A fixed-route transit system would be a boon to the city -- if it could sustain ridership. The city has a painful history of failed transit systems that never came close to attracting enough passengers to justify staying in business.
The new system is off to an auspicious start. We think the city and county have taken the right approach: Start slowly and let the needs of passengers determine how the service should grow.
But the city itself might have to grow into a larger public transportation system. Meanwhile, it is reassuring that residents now have the dial-a-ride option, which fills a crucial need for many.
Rock Hill's dial-a-ride system has steadily increased ridership since its debut in August.