COMET Chat with John Andoh

July 22, 2020

By John Andoh, Executive Director/CEO of Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (The COMET)
July 2020

It’s been a busy summer so far and we hope you all have been keeping safe. At The COMET, we’ve been doing our part to keep our riders safe, secure and comfortable as they travel our system on the way to essential work and resources.

We officially reopened our transit hub, COMET Central, back on June 16. At that time, we debuted a massive renovation at this location and at the Columbia Place Mall Superstop. COMET Central had been closed since late March when observance of the governor’s state of emergency and COVID-19 safety precautions prompted its closure.

The upgrades to these two locations were long overdue. There were many things needed in order to make access to The COMET services a pleasant experience for those needing to ride for essential travel. We were fortunate to receive money from the CARES Act which allowed us to make the necessary replacements and improvements for the benefit and safety of our riders. The improvements ranged from aesthetics, such as painting and landscaping, to more extensive building of lit shelters and benches at the SuperStop and enhanced safety and security with increased onsite police support and heightened disinfecting/sanitation. We also implemented a mandatory mask requirement for all buses and facilities with plans to provide complementary masks until July 31.

As we look towards the fall, we are excited about our new contract partnership with the University of South Carolina. The annual contract for $1.5 million is consistent with what UofSC spends currently to operate its system and will be designed to more efficiently serve the students of the University and unify and strengthen the transportation system in the Midlands.

In addition to the $1.5 million The COMET will receive from the contract, We estimate that close to a million passenger trips will be added to The COMET transit system and the Columbia Urbanized Area, as well as an additional 250,000 revenue vehicle miles. That could translate to an estimated increase of $500,000 in Federal funding annually to The COMET.
This contract is a great example of two public entities leveraging their resources for the good of the taxpayers. By joining together, both entities will have opportunities for increases in capital which will be poured right back into the community and continue to allow transportation in Columbia to grow.

The additional buses integrated into the system will reduce the variable costs for the entire The COMET Transit System and will help build even larger economies of scale for operating and maintaining a fleet. The contract will also increase safety for UofSC students. The buses will have up to nine cameras within the vehicles.

This will also provide better transportation access for UofSC students, employees and contract workers that use The COMET system. The access to federal and other capital renewal programs and/or capital technology will prove invaluable as transportation continues to grow in the Midlands.

UofSC students and faculty will be able to ride the Carolina Shuttle (tentative name) for free. The general public will also be able to ride Carolina Shuttle at the same fare as it costs to access The COMET service.
Lastly, as of July 1, The COMET presented a five-year contract to RATP Dev USA, Inc. to operate our Fixed Route and Paratransit Programs.

RATP Dev brings 46 years of success in managing and operating high-quality, safe, responsive and efficient transit systems throughout the United States. The new contractors will be responsible for employing the drivers, performing the maintenance of the buses and other related services such as paratransit, security, landscaping, bus stop maintenance, mystery riding and IT which are provided by small, local, minority and women owned businesses.

RATP Dev retained most employees during the transition and hired locally for other employment opportunities. We are looking forward to this next step with RATP Dev to continue to make mobility accessible and convenient for everyone in the Midlands. RATP Dev brings a unique history of designing, managing, operating, maintaining and modernizing all forms of public transport and we are looking forward to seeing how we can continue to grow The COMET across the region.

Please reach out to me anytime if you have any thoughts, comments or questions about The COMET @ 803.255.7087 or email [email protected].