2017-08-11 / Business

COMET has a new director

Story and Photos by Josh Cruse

New interim director of COMET, Ann August, has been with the bus system since May 1. New interim director of COMET, Ann August, has been with the bus system since May 1. It has been an exciting and busy first three months for interim director of the COMET, Ann August.

When she first took over, August had to deal with a federal transit administration audit and a state review just in the first six weeks at her position.

Aside from financial matters, August has looked at ways to continue improving the bus system. One such program is the Soda Cap Connector, which provides transportation for residents during lunch time hours. Buses, as part of this program, will travel from the South Carolina State Museum to Sumter Street, while also traveling through Gervais, Assembly, and Hampton Streets.

August is also hoping to implement service to Blythewood.

There are also 31 new buses being added to the fleet. The buses will have wifi capabilities, along with cameras. Customers will be able to track the buses using their smart phones.

This COMET bus serves downtown and Garners Ferry Road among its stops. This COMET bus serves downtown and Garners Ferry Road among its stops. “Everything is moving into the technology direction,” August said. “In order for public transit to keep pace, we have to make sure we do the same things any business would do. That includes upgrading our system to make sure we are appealing to the passengers and those who want to ride the system, those who are riding now, and those who may want to ride later.”

August said the new buses should be ready by the middle of September, meaning 80 percent of the fleet will be new. When the new buses are ready to hit the road, the oldest bus in the fleet will be no older than seven years old.

In July, August began a COMET Transit Leadership Academy, similar to Columbia Police Department’s Citizen’s Academy. The academy will give citizens a peek behind the scenes at the COMET, where they will be able to see everything from maintenance to components of the vehicles, the dispatchers and schedulers, the supervisors on the street, and the grant process COMET must go through.

The academy will consist of ten to 12 people and will meet once; although, August would like to expand it to meeting twice a year or quarterly.

Largely because of the Richland County Penny Sales Tax increase, the COMET is able to meet the 20 percent requirement in the federal government’s grant program. The grant allows the COMET to purchase things like vehicles, benches, and shelters.

Another new attraction coming to the buses is an automatic passenger counter, allowing citizens and elected officials to know how many people are riding buses, which buses they are using, and where the passengers get on and off.

August inherited a stable bus system largely in part to the incoming buses and a consistent source of funding due to the penny tax increase.

While she has already overseen a lot of changes, there is still more she would like to accomplish. She wants to continue tweaking the existing service to better serve the existing riders. August is also looking into expanding day service while possibly changing the night service to shorter routes.

Another change could come in the transfer facility along Sumter and Laurel Street. August wants to have other facilities outside the city to help the existing facility better accommodate riders. Possible sites for future transfer facilities could be Lower Richland, Northeast Columbia, Blythewood, and North Main.

While August believes her time with the COMET is temporary, expecting a new executive director to be hired, she said she is working to continue moving the bus system in the right direction.

“Overall, I think everything is moving right along,” August said.

Return to top