Per person, the city of Greenville and Greenville County contributed over $14 less to Greenlink, the public transit system for the area, than the nearest similar community.
In a study of Greenlink operations, the Piedmont Health Foundation found that the city and county combined contributed $3.76 per person to Greenlink, or 13% of the transit system’s revenue budget in 2015. Of the 10 similar communities used to compare with Greenlink, Charleston had the second-lowest per capita local fund contribution at $17.79. The remaining eight services had local government contributions over $28 per person — including Columbia which averaged $38.16 per capita in local funds.
Because of the reduced local funds, the study found that Greenlink relies heavily on federal funding, to the tune of 48% of its total revenue. That federal funding is meant for bus maintenance and replacement but is being redirected to cover shortfalls in operational funding, according to the study.
“This means that the aging fleet is in poor shape, which means buses break down, which means that service can be delayed for passengers,” said Katy Smith, executive director of the Piedmont Health Foundation.
Four of the 10 communities — Birmingham, Ala., Columbia, Mobile, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn. — have more than half of their revenue coming from local government. Four others — Charleston, Greensboro, N.C., Richmond, Va., and Winston-Salem, N.C. — received more than 40% of their revenue from local government. Besides Greenlink, Chattanooga, Tenn., had 25% of its revenue supplied by local government, according to the study.
Greenlink also had one of the lowest ridership of the 10 communities. In the service area, 5.7 tickets were paid per person per year, while in the county there were 2.2 tickets paid per person per year. Comparatively, in Columbia’s service area, 8.1 tickets per person per year were purchased and Charleston averaged 8.7 tickets per person per year. Fares were 17.5% of Greenlink’s revenues in 2015, which is slightly above the average of all 10 communities.
According to Greenlink, the raw number of trips taken on Greenlink was 1,084,682 in 2015.
Greenlink is in the middle of an operations analysis to seek out ways to improve the system and increase ridership. The Piedmont Health Foundation, city of Greenville and Greenville County are working on the comprehensive analysis with Greenlink.
Gary Shepard, director of public transportation for Greenville, cited economic impact analysis that suggested “for every $1 invested from local sources, $3.51 is returned to Greenville County in gross sales, additional goods, services produced, and employee earnings.”
“Supporting public transit should be viewed as an investment,” Shepard said, in a news release announcing the findings. “The impacts of local funding are creating positive effects on the local economy, economic development, overall mobility, and quality of life in the region.”