With welcomed sobriety, a committee has heeded the Beaufort County staff's advice and declined a $3.1 million federal grant to expand public bus service.
The county was approved more than a year ago for a Federal Transportation Administration "Bus Livability" grant, which could have been used to build bus stops and sidewalks and to buy buses.
That, in turn, would allow the expansion of the Lowcountry Transportation Authority's Palmetto Breeze line, which operates 13 routes with stops in five counties. The county subsidizes the operation, and riders pay $2 per round-trip or $74.80 for a monthly pass. The grant would have been used to add four more routes, most of them in northern Beaufort County.
But the grant came with stipulations and hidden costs, as "free" money often does. The grant could not be used to cover operational costs, which would balloon from about $240,000 a year for current service to $1.5 million for expanded service, according to county calculations.
Though that cost would be shared by the county, Beaufort Memorial Hospital, the Technical College of the Lowcountry, the University of South Carolina Beaufort and local military bases, riders would shoulder a heavier burden, too. Ticket prices would rise to about $6 a ticket and $125 for a monthly pass, the county projects.
That's still less than a typical motorist would spend on a monthly car payment and gasoline, but it's also $50 more out of the pocket of a bus rider, who quite likely falls on the lower end of the income scale.
In other words, this grant would mean a big leap in annual expense in return for a modest gain in service that some riders might see as a financial setback.
County administrator Gary Kubic was correct to recommend declining the grant, and the County Council's Finance Committee is to be commended for agreeing with him.