How to improve Greenlink in the near term?

Greenlink’s proposed route changes would bring more bidirectional service, reducing riders’ time to get where they want to go.

Greenlink – the public transit system serving Greenville County, SC – could see the first significant improvements to its routes in decades if recommendations from its recent Comprehensive Operational Analysis are implemented.

This Comprehensive Operational Analysis, or COA for short, was a product of the Piedmont Health Foundation’s 2015 study of public transit and health and human services transportation.  The study found a strong need for improved mobility in the community but revealed that most residents – both riders and nonriders – perceived Greenlink’s services to be insufficient.  Part of that was due to limited service times and geographic coverage constrained by Greenlink’s low levels of funding.

But frankly, part of this insufficiency was tied to outdated routes and stops. The transit system had been designed decades earlier and many routes had never been updated. Yet Greenlink staff and board members weren’t certain of the best way to go about making changes because of limited data with which to make decisions. There was no data on which stops were most and least used so that routes could be redesigned to meet the needs of today’s riders.  Without solid business information, Greenlink couldn’t take the first steps to become the system of the future.

So our study in 2015 recommended that first step – in the transit world, a study called a Comprehensive Operational Analysis, or COA for short.  The goal of the COA was to identify strengths of the system and areas for improvement and to provide suggestions to improve efficiency and increase ridership without any additional revenues.  With funding support from the City of Greenville, County of Greenville, and Piedmont Health Foundation, Greenlink hired Connetics Transportation Group of Atlanta to conduct the COA.

The COA had three major findings:

First, Greenlink accomplishes a lot with a little.  It uses its limited resources more efficiently than its peers based on its low cost per peak vehicle, cost per revenue hour and cost per revenue mile.  Research we released earlier this year showed that Greenlink receives far less local funding in absolute terms and per capita than its peer systems in the Southeast.  This finding from the COA shows it is using every one of those dollars well.

Second, because the recommendations were restricted to the assumption that no new revenues would be available for improvements, the best way to improve service would be to make routes bi-directional where possible, meaning the bus services both sides of the road, rather than loop routes.  This would be a significant change in Greenville County, as many of Greenlink’s routes are loops or non-linear shapes.  More on this below.

Third, Greenlink’s maintenance facility is too small to adequately serve the system. Staff and board members have known that the maintenance facility, which was formerly a beer distributorship located on Augusta Street near the Greenville Drive stadium, was insufficient to service an aging fleet of vehicles, but the COA provided clear documentation of the facility’s constraints on the system.

Regarding the route changes: the proposed changes aim to continue offering coverage to as many current riders as possible, but in a way that is far more efficient. Click here to see the proposals in detail. The changes reduce the service area footprint by 6.9%, but only 2.4% of existing Greenlink riders are using existing stops in the areas losing service. However, all of these changes are just proposals.  Greenlink will begin a month-long process of hearing from the public: What do they like? What are their concerns? What changes to the recommended routes would they make?  The Board will then consider all of this feedback and make final decisions to go into effect in the summer of 2018.  Click here to see a full schedule of public hearings.

GTA Board and Greenlink staff are excited about the future and ready to make informed improvements to the system. We’ve previously reported that Greenlink staff are up to the task.

As GTA board chair Addy Matney said, “We know our customers and potential customers want better service. Identifying and implementing these positive short-term, revenue neutral changes are important first steps toward building a more vibrant transit system for our community.”

But doing so will take partners, something Greenlink welcomes.  Transit Director Gary Shepard said, “Greenlink is excited that nonprofit organizations, such as Piedmont Health Foundation, and the business community are beginning to talk about the need for improved transit. Greenlink will be unable to make the needed changes without support from the community, and we greatly appreciate the partnerships that have developed.”  Interested in learning more? Contact Nicole McAden, Marketing and Public Affairs Specialist at Greenlink, or Katy Smith, Executive Director of Piedmont Health Foundation, or sign up for a transit field trip.

To learn more:

Full Comprehensive Operational Analysis

FAQs on Greenville’s popular trolleys

The downtown trolley is Greenlink’s most popular service, providing nearly 120,000 rides to residents and visitors in 2016. Because the service was so popular, Greenville City Council decided to set aside Hospitality Tax funds to expand the trolley system from one Main Street route to four separate routes. Since the routes launched August 3, 2017, we have heard many common questions arise about the new trolley system. In an effort to get the correct information we sat down with Nicole McAden, Greenlink’s marketing and public affairs specialist, to get the run down.

 

Q:  First, what are the basics of the expanded trolley system?

Where do the trolleys operate? The four trolley routes – Heart of Main, Top of Main, Arts West, and Augusta – can be viewed here.

When do the trolleys operate? – Thursday and Friday 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday: 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.  It’s important to note that the last trolley run of each night will depart from the trolley hub on Falls Park Drive 30 minutes prior to end of service. This should allow for the trolley to make one last complete loop before service ends for the night. This does not mean that the trolley will service each stop until 11 p.m.

Track the real-time location of the trolleys thanks to Code for Greenville, a volunteer team of programmers, with the Trolley Tracker app. Download it free at www.YeahThatTrolley.com

Food and beverages – You may bring drinks that have a secure lid. No open solo cups, cans, bottles, or fast food type cups (paper cups with plastic lids and straws). Food may be transported, but must remain in containers and cannot be consumed on the trolley.

Q: How is the trolley system different from the regular fixed route bus system?

A: The trolleys are funded with City of Greenville Hospitality Tax funds (along with a Federal Transit Administration match), so they must serve City of Greenville hospitality-related venues.  The idea behind expanding the trolley system is to provide a way for people to access destinations that are outside of the downtown core in an effort to share this success with other restaurants, retail establishments, parks, and tourism facilities in the city.  Its hours of operation are limited to Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. – 11 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. – 11 p.m., and Sunday from 1 p.m. – 8 p.m.

The existing fixed route bus system provides transportation to a variety of locations, including jobs, schools, shopping, residential and retails areas, and more, and is funded by federal, state, and local sources and passenger fares.  It runs in various geographic locations throughout the county.  Its hours are Monday – Friday, 5:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Q: What process was used to create the new routes?

A: The Greenville Transit Authority board of directors passed a set of criteria that trolley routes must meet, many of which are required since the trolleys are partially funded using City of Greenville hospitality taxes. The characteristics include:

–          New routes must provide service to the Central Business District (CBD)

–          New routes provide service between the CBD and other hospitality venues

–          New routes provide connections to leisure/recreation facilities

–          New routes provide connections to tourism facilities

–          New routes provide connections to residential areas

Additionally, Greenlink staff established the following operational goals:

–          Route length is under 5 miles

–          Route headways – the time it takes for the trolley to run the full route – are under 30 minutes

–          Routes are connected and integrated with a common hub to allow for transfers from one trolley to another

Once the criteria were set and proposed routes were drawn, Greenlink staff held three public hearings to gather input and feedback, much of which were incorporated into the new routes that are running today.

Q: Where can you get on and off the trolley?

A: To ensure safety, passengers are permitted to board and exit the trolleys only at designated trolley stops. A map of the trolley routes and stop locations can be found on the Greenlink website at: www.RideGreenlink.com/Trolley

Q: Can I request new stops to be added?

A: Not surprisingly, the new trolleys are popular and residents are already submitting requests and ideas for stops, and Greenlink staff are continually evaluating the stop locations in order to make changes that would better serve passengers.

There are some requirements that every stop must have, which include:

–          Space to pour an 8 ft. by 5 ft. concrete pad. This landing pad must be flat and tied into other infrastructure (such as sidewalks) to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act and create access for all ranges of mobility. The trolleys are equipped with a wheel-chair ramp or lift, and this pad is an essential component to ensuring the ramp/lift works correctly.

–          Approval from the entity that owns and maintains the roadway. Many streets throughout Greenville are actually owned and maintained by the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Before Greenlink can install any new stops on an SCDOT roadway, Greenlink must obtain an approved encroachment permit from SCDOT. The permitting application ensures that the stop won’t create any new safety hazards.

–          Adjacent property owner buy-in. The point of the trolleys are to provide transportation for tourists traveling through town. Many businesses are excited about stops being installed near their location, as it could lead to increases in customer traffic. However, trolley stop locations throughout residential neighborhoods are trickier, and Greenlink is interested in pursuing stop locations that are agreed upon by the adjacent property owners. While the stops are installed in the public right-of way, and therefore don’t require property owner approval, it’s important that Greenlink receive support from the neighbors.

The Arts West Route and the Augusta Route are both funded through October 2017. Between the months of November 2017 to April 2018, Greenlink staff will evaluate service performance and make tweaks to service.

Q: Can I rent the trolley for private events?

A: No. We know residents love the trolleys, but the Federal Transit Administration prohibits any charter services from agencies using vehicles intended for public transportation.

Q: Will we see trolleys anywhere in the County or other municipalities?

A:  The City of Greenville was interested in bringing trolleys to City residents and visitors to transport them to hospitality destinations using hospitality tax dollars. If other local governments or private funders or companies are interested in exploring using trolleys or other forms of transit to move residents and visitors, Greenlink staff are willing to explore the opportunities.