Empowering Our Community: The Transformative Impact of One-Third of a Penny

March 13, 2024

By Maurice Pearl, Executive Director/CEO for Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority (The
COMET)

Since November of 2023, I have had the honor of being at the helm of The COMET, the Midlands’ public transportation system. I recently reflected that our day is comprised of thirds, one-third for sleep, one-third for leisure, self-care, and looking after others, and one-third where we roll up our sleeves to be productive. All of these are essential “one-thirds.”

Much like enjoying the revitalizing influence of a night's sleep, caring for others and self, or leaning into the one-third of the day when we are most productive, another “one-third”, being one-third of a penny, has significantly enhanced our daily lives. This fractional contribution, graciously provided by the people of Richland County through the Richland County Transportation Penny program, has played a pivotal role in shaping the other two-thirds of our day, by way of The COMET, an essential service.

The COMET is more than a mode of transportation; it is a lifeline for our community. Whether helping individuals get to work, school, medical appointments or the grocery store, The COMET ensures accessibility, timeliness and affordability for all.

Now, I know there are plenty of people who may not use public transportation — but I can assure you that someone you depend on does every single day. From grocery store clerks to security officers, nurses and teachers, countless individuals depend on The COMET to keep our community running smoothly.

The COMET has come a long way since being fully funded by the Richland County Transportation Penny in 2012. With the power of one-third of a penny, The COMET has set the standard in our state for public transit and provides the best service possible for its riders and the rest of the community.

Thanks to you, the citizens of Richland County, The COMET has leveraged one-third of a penny over the last 12 years and:

  • Increased the number of available routes from 18 to 47.
  • Increased the number of vehicles in its fleet from 68 to 97.
  • Increased ridership to more than 2.8 million a year.
  • Increased miles traveled by 41%.
  • Increased the number of bus shelters from 0 to 160 to protect riders from the elements.
  • Increased the number of bus benches from 15 to 129.

With a community-first mindset and a fraction of the penny tax, The COMET has adapted to what its riders need by providing innovative transportation services such as:

  • Dial-A-Ride Transit (DART): A paratransit service for seniors and persons with disabilities unable to ride the fixed route COMET buses or access a transit stop for any trip purpose.
  • Vanpool: Designed to assist employees in forming shared rides or vanpools for the home-to-work commute.
  • The Soda Cap Connector: A downtown shuttle intended for tourists and locals to hop from district to district in the heart of Columbia at only $1 per ride.

Thanks to you, we can all recognize the remarkable impact that one-third of a penny has had on our community. We are grateful that you have all continued to support The COMET, the Midlands’ vital public transportation system, as it strives to enhance the lives of every resident, every day. Together, we have amplified the impact of one-third of a penny. As I lead the organization into the future, with your continued support, we can ensure that The COMET remains a beacon of progress and vitality in our community.