County turns down $3.1 million bus grant deemed too costly

achristnovich@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 21, 2012 

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A Beaufort County committee has decided to reject a $3.1 million federal grant to expand public bus service after determining future costs would outweigh the benefits.

The county was approved for the Federal Transportation Administration's Bus Livability grant more than a year ago. The money can be used to buy buses, bus stops and sidewalks, but it cannot be used for daily operational costs, according to a county staff report.

Those daily operational expenses would end up costing $1.5 million a year, according to county staff. The cost would be spread among the county, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, the Technical College of the Lowcountry, University of South Carolina Beaufort and local military bases.

Currently, it costs those entities a total of $240,000 a year to operate Palmetto Breeze, run by the Lowcountry Regional Transportation Agency. The system has 13 routes with stops in five counties.

Beaufort County residents pay $2 per round-trip ticket or $74.80 for a monthly pass, according to the bus system's website.

If the service were expanded through the grant, four routes would be added to further serve the city of Beaufort, the Port Royal area and parts of unincorporated northern Beaufort County. Rider costs would go up to $6 per ticket or $125 for the monthly pass.

County administrator Gary Kubic wrote a letter dated Feb. 13 to the county's Finance Committee, recommending the county turn down the grant.

"There are a host of financial considerations that have influenced my thinking on this," Kubic's letter said. "The most important ones are the small current ridership numbers (11 to 16 per route per day), and the cost of annual operations support of $360,000 a year from each program supporter."

County planner Tony Criscitiello told the committee Monday there was little hope of being able to afford the grant.

"We came to the conclusion that it would be impossible for county to afford the opportunity to utilize the grant," he said. "We're spending $240,000 per year now, but then to bump that to $1.5 million ... is not reasonable in my opinion."

Committee members voted unanimously to recommend the grant be rejected.

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