County rebranding transit system image

At Monday night’s council meeting, Demetria Holmes, director of the Fairfield County Transit System (seated), prepares to deliver a report about agency improvements. | Michael Smith

WINNSBORO – Demetria Holmes wants to put Fairfield County in the driver’s seat when it comes to mass transit.

Holmes, director of the Fairfield County Transit System, said at Monday night’s council meeting that the agency is launching a marketing plan to take back its role as public transportation for the county population as a whole. She plans to accomplish this by linking to more routes, expanding existing ones and partnering with The COMET, short for the Columbia Midlands Regional Transit Authority.

Holmes told The Voice that, over the years, the public perception has developed that the county’s transit system is primarily intended for Medicaid patients.

“That’s not the case,” Holmes said. “It is the county bus system for everyone in the county.”

To change the public’s perception and the transit system’s image, Holmes has launched a plan to extend some routes and touch all areas of the county and beyond. That plan includes the joint venture with the COMET, called the Killian Road Express, that will link Fairfield routes with Richland and Lexington county routes.

Holmes has also hired a marketing firm to come up with a new logo, perhaps a catchy phrase and even design a colorful wrap for at least some of the buses.

Reviving Funding

Holmes said expanding public transit is vital to the Fairfield system, which has faced federal funding roadblocks.

Formed in 1988, the county system has traditionally relied on a combination of federal grants and state funds to keep operations rolling.

In 2012, the agency started providing Medicaid transportation services, which have quickly loaded up passenger counts.

Holmes said Medicaid passengers have accounted for 300,000 miles a year while public transit makes up only 34,000 miles. Medicaid passengers account for about 1,500 trips per month compared to a few dozen public passenger trips, she said.

As public transit dropped off, so did the federal rural transportation grant that Fairfield had received, with funding dropping from $300,000 to $129,000.

In addition, Medicaid revenues have been relatively flat, fluctuating between $318,000 and $360,000 the past three years. Expenses, however, have continued to rise, causing Medicaid transportation to operate at a deficit the last two years, Holmes said.

“It’s not paying for itself,” she said. “But it’s a service that I do think that residents need. That’s why we’re turning it back to public [transit] so we can draw more money from the [federal] grant. That’s why we’re rebranding the system so it’s not just Medicaid.”

COMET Connection

On Aug. 5, Fairfield County launched its Killian Road Express (COMET) service. Buses leave Fairfield County Transit and stop at 10 locations around town before proceeding to the Killian Road Superstop.  The Killian Superstop is located in Walmart parking lot. From there, passengers can transfer to The COMET bus or patronize businesses in the surrounding areas.

Fairfield County pickups start at 7 a.m., and include locations such as the Bi-Lo Plaza, the old Walmart Plaza, Winnsboro Plaza, and other spots around Winnsboro.

Fares are $3 one-way and busses operate Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

County Administrator Jason Taylor said partnering with The COMET doesn’t come with any additional costs while also increasing transportation opportunities.

“I think we’ve come up with a very good solution,” Taylor said.

In coming days, Fairfield County Transit plans to accelerate marketing of the new services.

“It’s really just getting started,” Holmes said.

Councilwoman Bertha Goins praised Holmes and the agency for pursuing a partnership with The Comet.

“Kudos, that’s all I can say. Any time you can connect with someone to make quality of life better, that’s a good thing,” Goins said. “That’s what the future is all about. Never be afraid to partner with other people to try new ideas.”

Transit-Go Route

Another new service, Holmes said, is the Transit-Go route, a demand response service, which also launched Aug. 5.

“Transit-Go is a general public dial-a-ride service that offers curb-to-curb transportation beyond the usual routes, but within specific areas of the county and beyond,” Holmes said.

Fees are based on mileage, starting at $5 for zero to 10 miles, and increasing incrementally by $5 every 10 miles. All the fares are one-way rates.

Transit-Go will operate Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., excluding certain holidays.

New Winnsboro Local Route

Also new is a deviated fixed-route service that operates around the Town of Winnsboro and outlying areas.

The route is an extension of the regular Winnsboro Local service’s hours of operation and coverage area. It will operate on a fixed schedule, but offers up to a two miles deviation off a route, Holmes said.

“If residents want a deviation from the service on their route, they will need to call the transit office ahead of time,” Holmes said.

“Because of the deviation of service and because the drivers are required to operate the lift for mobility aid securement for some riders, this can cause some delays.” Holmes said.

The new fare for the extended service is $1, and deviations are .25 for the first mile and .50 for the second mile.

Future Routes Planned

Holmes said she plans to initiate more new routes throughout the county during the next three to six months. Those routes include a Ridgeway Express, Greenbrier Express, White Oak/Blackstock/Woodard Express, Blair/Jenkinsville/Monticello Express and a revised Columbia 1X (will go to Providence Northeast, Providence Downtown, Prisma Health Richland, Prisma Health Baptist, and the Dorn VA Hospital.)

A full list of pickup locations, fares and departure times can be found online at www.fairfieldsc.com/residents/transit-system.