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But frankly, part of this insufficiency was tied to outdated routes and stops.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.

 

 

Greenlink’s Comprehensive Operational Analysis

How can Greenlink, the public transit system that serves Greenville County, South Carolina, be made more efficient and more responsive to riders?  And how can it do so within its already modest budget?

Greenlink’s route map, as of June 2017

This is one of the key questions of a study currently underway.  The study, called a Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA), provides a snapshot of the current system: which routes and stops are being the most utilized and when are people riding, which areas have housing and employment densities that will best support transit use, the effectiveness and efficiency of its maintenance and operations, and more. Most interesting, the study will provide recommendations for budget-neutral changes that Greenlink could make to better serve the community.

The COA was one of the top recommendations from the Piedmont Health Foundation’s 2015 study of public transit and health and human services transportation.  During that study, it became apparent that Greenlink’s routes were designed long ago and had not been reevaluated in years.  Additionally, Greenlink lacked data on where and when riders were getting on and off the buses, which would help staff and the Greenville Transit Authority Board know what is working and what might need adjustment.  The COA, funded by the City of Greenville, County of Greenville, and Piedmont Health Foundation, is designed to provide that important information.

Connetics Transportation Group (CTG) of Atlanta was hired to conduct the COA, with oversight and input from a community steering committee.  They have spent hundreds of hours riding buses; interviewing drivers; surveying riders; leading focus groups with community members, business leaders, elected officials, and others; analyzing data on the community and stop-level ridership numbers; studying Greenlink’s maintenance and transit facilities; and more.

The consultants are identifying many needs and opportunities for Greenlink.  However, one of their main charges required that any changes must not cost the system more money than it has available currently.  Policy makers and community members have wondered if the system is as efficient as it could be and whether there are “easy fixes” to better serve residents.

I’m reminded of the scene in Apollo 13 when engineers are charged with figuring out how to bring the incapacitated spacecraft home using only the supplies currently on the ship. A box full of what appeared to be junk was dumped on the table at mission control, and the NASA team got to work.

Greenlink staff and the consultants from CTG have a similar task: serve the community as well or better but with the same old diesel buses, the same inadequate maintenance facility, and the same woefully low level of funding.

Like the Apollo 13 team, I believe Greenlink will be successful.  The skill and passion of their staff and the loyalty of their riders will, indeed, go a long way.

Service change recommendations will be presented to the Board of Greenville Transit Authority this summer, and Greenlink will seek public input on these ideas throughout the fall. I encourage you to take part in this process and help spread the word about Greenlink’s plans.

But as you do, imagine what Greenlink could be if it had more than the figurative box full of supplies to work with?  Hopefully, a future-looking Transit Development Plan will answer that question for Greenlink in early 2018.

Who’s driving your bus system?

Jim Collins’ book on management, Good to Great, is often quoted when discussing community change and excellence in leadership.  It’s particularly fitting in describing the work to improve our public transit system, because one of its characteristics of great companies is a mindfulness of “who’s on the bus.”  Collins argues that companies that go from good to great start not with the question of where they are going but with who is working there – getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats.

The management team at Greenlink has been fully in place for less than a year, but these folks’ collective experience and passion for improving connectivity in our growing community indicate they see a system that’s here to stay. Greenlink has the right people on the bus, and they are already working on where Greenlink will go in the future.

Gary Shepard, Director of Public Transportation

Gary Shepard

Gary Shepard joined Greenlink as the director of public transportation in November 2016. He brings extensive experience in economic development and public transportation to the position, including serving as the economic development coordinator for the governor of Massachusetts for eight years and as the director of economic development for Springfield, Massachusetts, the state’s third-largest city. He has also been the administrator and CEO of two regional transit authorities in Massachusetts.

Gary has served on numerous civic boards throughout his career and has worked with a nonprofit that assists homeless veterans and develops permanent housing opportunities. He received a bachelor’s degree in government from Western New England University and a master’s degree in business administration from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

James Keel, Assistant Director of Public Transportation

James Keel

James Keel is the Assistant Public Transportation Director for the City of Greenville Public Transportation Department in Greenville, South Carolina. Initially, he was brought onboard to serve as the General Manager but seven months into his career with the City he was promoted to his current role. James currently oversees transit operations division, the safety and training unit, and the transit planning and grants unit.

James came to Greenlink from Greenville, North Carolina where he served as the Charter Services Coordinator for East Carolina University Transit. He studied management and has received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in business administration. James’s passion for public transportation began in 2009 when he served as a bus operator for the ECU Transit.

Alex John, Transit Planner and Grants Coordinator

Alex John

Alex joined Greenlink in July 2016. He previously served as the Senior Transportation Planner for Delaware County, PA and as the County’s Planning Liaison to SEPTA, the public transit provider for the Philadelphia metro area. Alex brings a comprehensive planning background to Greenlink including previous work with rail, road, and sidewalk projects – a beneficial asset in coordinating Greenlink’s short and long-term planning efforts with city, county, and state agencies.

Alex is responsible for all service planning activities including analyzing and modifying bus routes, bus stop design and placement, and addressing pedestrian and ADA access at bus stop locations. He is also responsible for developing grant applications for state and federal funds and reports all operational data to the National Transit Database (NTD).

Alex earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Community and Regional Planning and a minor in Geography and Urban Studies from Temple University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Geography and Environmental Planning from Towson University.

Nicole McAden, Marketing and Public Affairs Specialist

Nicole McAden

Nicole came on board with Greenlink in December 2015. Her current duties include coordinating advertising sales to increase Greenlink revenue, managing a bike locker program in downtown Greenville, updating the Greenlink website and creating quarterly newsletters, planning public hearings and communicating service changes, and serving as Greenlink’s community liaison with media outlets, elected officials, and other stakeholder groups. Nicole is also a member of the Bike Walk Greenville Board of Directors and the Upstate Transit Coalition Board of Directors.

Nicole’s experience in transportation began in 2011 with URS Corporation (now AECOM) as a School Outreach Coordinator, and then as Deputy Project Manager, with the SC Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Resource Center – a project of SCDOT. With the SRTS Resource Center, Nicole recruited K-8 grade schools to participate with the SRTS program by planning Walk and Bike to School Day events, conducting walkability audits, and drafting school travel plans to seek funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements. Additionally, Nicole served as an ambassador for the program by presenting at national conferences including the Pro Walk/Pro Bike 2014 Conference and the 2014 US Play Coalition Conference.

Nicole is originally from DeLand, Florida, and attended the University of Florida where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. Nicole majored in Marketing and received minors in both Organizational Management for Nonprofits and Leadership. She is currently earning a Master of Public Affairs degree from the University of Missouri.

Joel Barefoot, Transit Safety and Training Officer

Joel Barefoot

With over 12 years of experience in a variety of transportation roles, Joel came to Greenlink in August 2016 to focus on developing a comprehensive safety program. He believes instilling a culture of safety among employees and incorporating risk mitigation into all aspects of operations are keys to minimizing safety-sensitive events.

Monthly safety meetings with all operations staff are used to discuss recent trends in overall performance and continually update them on recent changes to laws, policies, and best practices. These meetings also offer an opportunity for him to reinforce the importance of being safe on the road by driving defensively and maintaining awareness while still providing great customer service. By interviewing and hiring qualified bus operators with the right mix of people skills and behind the wheel experience, Joel hopes to help maintain the City of Greenville’s image as a safe place to work and live.

Joel first received his Associate in Applied Science in Advertising & Graphic Design before beginning his transportation career as a bus operator while attending classes at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. Here he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Information and Computer Technology as well as a minor in Business Administration. During his time at ECU Transit, he quickly moved up to become a dispatcher, training instructor, and finally Planning, Marketing & IT Manager. Additionally, he served as a Third Party Examiner certified by the NC DMV to administer skills tests for new employees who had completed training and were attempting to obtain their Commercial Driver’s Licenses.

Lorrie Brown, Administrative Assistant III

Lorrie Brown

Lorrie Brown is the first smiling face that visitors see when they enter the Transit Center at 100 W. McBee Avenue.  She is Greenlink’s Administrative Assistant and has worked with Greenville Transit Authority/Greenlink since 2005.  During tenure at Greelink, she has been given a Customer Service Award in 2009 and was voted Transit Employee of the Year in 2011. 

Prior to her employment with the Greenville Transit Authority/Greenlink, Lorrie worked for South Trust Bank as Administrative Assistant to the Bank Administrator, and for 18 years she was the Human Resource Secretary for Hexcel Schwebel where she maintained records for over 1,000 employees.  She also assisted with safety training and signing up new hires during her employment.  When the Corporate office moved from White Plains, NY to Anderson, SC Lorrie left the Hexcel Schwebel HR Department and went to work in the Corporate office as Administrative Assistant assisting the President and Vice Presidents.  During her employment there, she received various customer service and perfect attendance awards (missing only two days during her 18 years of employment!).

Piedmont Health Foundation and Katy Smith receive Award for Excellence in Community Outreach

The Transportation Association of South Carolina presented the Piedmont Health Foundation and its Executive Director Katy Pugh Smith with the 2017 Award for Excellence in Community Outreach.

The award recognizes excellence in building community support for mobile infrastructure-related projects through participation in community affairs, grassroots relationships or marketing and promotion of the system, services, and more.

In making the award, TASC Executive Director Terecia Wilson noted the following:

  • Over the last several years, Ms. Katy Smith, supported and aided by the Members of the Board of Directors of the Piedmont Health Foundation, worked tirelessly to complete an in-depth research project in Greenville County to assess the health of the local community; barriers to good health and active lifestyles; and opportunities to improve the health of the community.
  • Through the study, there was extensive outreach to all segments of the local community to obtain their input and their concerns. The local response was overwhelming, due to the marketing and outreach efforts by Katy, the Board, and the staff of the Foundation. Much was learned and a series of recommendations/plan of action to move forward was created.
  • One of the key findings of the study was the impact of affordable and accessible transportation services on public health. Many local residents were not able to go to doctor’s appointments, obtain needed medications, or purchase healthy foods due to lack of access to transportation.
  • The study clearly demonstrated the linkages between transportation and wellness – long before federal authorities implemented the national “Riding to Wellness Initiative”.

At last year’s TASC conference, and again at our recent, statewide Transportation and Wellness Summit, Katy and the Piedmont Health Foundation’s presentation on their study demonstrated true excellence in community outreach, as the project methodology was explained and the key results identified.

“We are proud of this recognition and appreciative of the support of the Transportation Association of South Carolina,” said Katy Smith. “TASC unites the many people and organizations in our state that provide transportation services, ranging from transit systems to Councils on Aging to state universities. Because it is critical that we have a strong mobile infrastructure to serve the residents of South Carolina, the Piedmont Health Foundation believes our partnership with TASC is an important way we can improve health.”

Greenlink operations study released

Originally published in the Greenville News on 2/12/17

See additional coverage in the Greenville Journal, the Greenville News, GSA Business, and on our website.

One hour wait times. Insufficient geographic coverage. Hours of operation too short for most residents’ work, educational or recreational schedules. These are the primary reasons most Greenville County residents don’t use public transit and why life is difficult for those who must rely on it.  If residents can’t reach the doctor’s office for preventive care, the grocery store for healthy foods, or a job to earn a livable wage, they won’t likely be as healthy.  Since 2015, the Piedmont Health Foundation has focused on transportation and public transit as a way to improve the health of our community.

The public transit system operating in Greenville County, South Carolina, has come a long way since the City of Greenville began operating it as Greenlink in 2008. However, its limitations cause many to say it still has a long way to go.

But why is the service so insufficient? Why can’t the system serve more people and more frequently? Greenlink staff and the Greenville Transit Authority Board, which governs the transit system, say that the service they can offer is limited by the funds they receive for operations.

To better understand funding for public transit in Greenville, the Piedmont Health Foundation conducted a study using Federal Transit Administration data to compare Greenlink to transit systems in “peer communities” – areas in the Southeast that are similar in terms of population, geography, economy and culture.

As was reported in the Greenville News, Greenlink received only $3.76 per capita from local sources in 2015. The next lowest peer community, Charleston, received $17.79 per capita in local funds, with others receiving much more (e.g. Winston-Salem at $33.14, Greensboro at $40.70, and Birmingham at $49.22). Greenville County and the City of Greenville give an annual apportionment to Greenlink for its operations – 13% of its total annual operational funding. The median percentage of local funding for the other communities was four times that of Greenlink’s. Over time, funding from local sources to Greenlink has decreased. In 1991, the system received $730,724 from the City and County.  In 2015, it was almost $144,000 less.

So, compared to peer communities, we are far behind.

But there is another important comparison to make: how does our funding compare to what is needed for a system that will meet our community’s needs? And how can that investment generate an overall economic benefit?

Answering those questions is at the top of the agenda for Greenlink’s new Director of Public Transit, Gary Shepard. Shepard began working with the City of Greenville in November, and he comes with an extensive background in economic development and public transit. I’ve had the opportunity to join him as he has met with elected officials, community leaders, business people and others, and he clearly states his belief that investments in transit are, in fact, investments in economic development.

Shepard says, “Every time Greenlink transports someone to work, not only are we helping that person provide for their family, but it allows for contributions to the income tax. Every time Greenlink transports a person to shop, not only are we helping that business owner attract customers, but these transactions add to the state sales tax. Every time Greenlink helps a patient travel to a medical appointment, we are ensuring that person receives care and increasing the quality of their life, but we are also contributing to preventative care efforts and lowering medical bills. And every time Greenlink can transport a student to an internship, we are not only adding to their educational experience, but also increasing the brain power of the region.”

Greenlink is conducting a Comprehensive Operational Analysis to take the first steps in designing that system. This assessment – recommended by the Piedmont Health Foundation’s 2015 mobility study and funded by us in partnership with the City of Greenville, Greenville County – will identify ways that Greenlink can redesign routes, adjust or relocate stops, use different vehicles, or modify service schedules to provide service in a more effective but budget-neutral manner. The next step is a Transit Development Plan to imagine the system of the future, one that can better serve a changing Greenville County with a denser downtown core, more congested corridors, and population that has a wider geographic spread.

Our community is at the top of most favorable lists when compared with the rest of the nation. We pride ourselves on innovation, public-private partnerships, and quality of life. The Piedmont Health Foundation believes that improving the mobility of all residents is the next big opportunity for demonstrating, yet again, Greenville’s can-do spirit.