Orangeburg County resident Carolyn Holley says she now knows what having a great day in Orangeburg means following the debut of the long-awaited public transportation system in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.
Holley, along with Calhoun County resident Josephine Williams, were the first two riders on the Cross County Connection, a public transportation commuter service that began in Calhoun and Orangeburg counties in March.
The official kickoff of the system was held Wednesday morning at the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds in the presence of a large crowd of community members and federal, state and local officials. A second ceremony was held later in the evening in Calhoun County.
“It is a great day in Orangeburg County. It’s been a blessing for me to be part of this program,” said Holley, a cancer survivor who had no transportation to get to and from her medical appointments.
“I’ve been using the bus service mainly for medical purposes, but I’ll be using it even more now that they’ve opened it up. I’m a recent widow. My husband passed away seven months ago, and he was the one that did all the driving. Now that he’s not here, it’s been a great experience for me to be able to partake of this transportation service,” Holley said. “I’m a native New Yorker and am used to public transportation, so this is great for me.”
Williams said she enjoys the convenience of the service.
“I enjoy riding the bus. I thank God for it. When I call, it’s nothing but a word. I’m picked up from my door. I try to be ready when they come to pick me up. It’s no problem. I really enjoy it. I mostly go to the doctor for my checkup,” she said.
The Santee Wateree Transit Authority provides the service under a S.C. Department of Transportation pilot grant. The system will receive $292,500 over three years.
A Downtown Circular Service is provided in the city of Orangeburg and a Paratransit Commuter Service runs through both counties. The downtown system includes two separate routes. A commuter bus route, providing service from each county to the Hillcrest Recreation Area, OCtech and Walmart, will feed riders into the downtown route, allowing access to Edisto Memorial Gardens plus Claflin University, S.C. State University and Southern Methodist College.
Individuals will ride free on the new service from Monday, Sept. 21 through Friday, Oct. 2. Two buses used in the system are both ADA accessible and equipped with bicycle racks.
“We’ve been working on this project for three years, and today is a great day in Orangeburg and Calhoun counties,” said Connie Shade, assistant executive director of the Aiken-based Lower Savannah Council of Governments.
“Orangeburg County and Calhoun County have both contributed financially to the project. We hope to, at some point, get the universities to put a student fee in so students can ride free. That’s our next goal on this. We’re hoping to keep the funds available for the system,” she said, noting that another goal is making sure individuals in eastern Orangeburg County are adequately served.
“Folks can still call and ask to be matched with the bus that’s coming into the area. They can still ride from the outlying areas. These buses will do the circular downtown, but the folks from the outlying areas can come into town and connect with the circulator and be able to travel wherever they need to go,” Shade said.
Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce President David Coleman said, “We have good leadership from our governing bodies to help make this possible and the recognition that there needs to be cooperation between the various government entities to make significant progress. I think it’s a good thing, and I think it will create more economic activity.”
Harold Young, Orangeburg County deputy administrator for community development, has said the county is donating the old nurses’ dormitory on Carolina Avenue for use as a transit hub. Shade said the LSCOG is now waiting on approval of $3.5 million in federal stimulus money for construction of that facility.
Young said the county is currently in the process of getting the Cross Connection bus stop signs mounted in designated areas.
Sen. John Matthews, among several legislators on hand, said, “We’re making the quality of life better.” The potential for the transportation service to increase per capita by two percent illustrated the economic benefits of the system, he said.
Susan Richards of SR Concepts of Charleston, who handles marketing for the system, recognized Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 Technology Center students who are creating advertising videos to be aired on the district’s local access Channel 12.
Cross County Connection is the first public transportation effort in the area since Orangeburg’s Metro Transit went out of business in 1993. Shade said the efforts of a transportation task force, comprised of a dedicated group of volunteers, agency representatives, educational institutions and county elected officials, will help ensure the current system’s viability.
“We’ve had lots of input from a lot of different folks, plus the fact that you’ve got Santee Wateree already operating down here. They’re a professional transportation company, and they’re already operating Medicaid and other types of transportation. It’s a perfect mix,” she said. ”There should be no barrier. We hope this time to make it work,” she said.