‘A moment we’ll all look back to’: Rock Hill’s new free bus service is ready to roll

Rock Hill is putting a model for the entire world on its streets. But for people only needing to go a block at a time, it’ll be there, too.

The first of four My Ride Rock Hill bus routes begins Monday. Service to the downtown and Knowledge Park areas starts the free, electric bus program followed by routes connecting Heckle Boulevard, Cherry Road, Riverwalk, Dave Lyle Boulevard and other areas on July 1.

“This is a moment we’ll all look back to,” said Mayor John Gettys. “To see all these buses come in, to see the promise that they bring with them for so many people.”

Gettys and other city officials held an event at Fountain Park on Thursday morning to promote the free bus service. The same time and place, but a day later, Rock Hill held a pep rally to welcome the Carolina Panthers to the city.

“A little smaller crowd than yesterday,” Gettys joked, “but just as much enthusiasm and just as much promise in our future we see today as we did yesterday.”

The free bus service will connect Winthrop students and businesses, but also residents who may lack transportation access within the city. Partnerships with Winthrop, Piedmont Medical Center and Family Trust Federal Credit Union allow the city to run the service at no cost to riders.

The buses also are the first public transit system to start with full electric vehicle technology.

“That’s a tremendous amount of innovation,” said Ryan Popple, president and CEO of bus builder Proterra. “A lot of transit systems throughout North America, throughout the world, have started to dabble in electric vehicles. But to the best of my knowledge, this is the first one where the transit system from the start is designed to run on clean electricity.”

The buses were manufactured in Greenville. They weigh half what a steel bus would, and have no tailpipes since they have no emissions. They’re quiet, too.

“There’s no other bus like this on the road,” Popple said.

The buses use about 20% of the energy per mile of a combustion engine bus.

“Even if you’re the only rider on it, you’re probably getting better energy efficiency than if you were in an SUV,” Popple said.

The city will roll out more information on a user app in coming weeks. Route 1, a downtown and Knowledge Park loop, will run 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with extended hours to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. It will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Buses will pull into each stop every 30 minutes on the first route, every hour on the remaining three routes.

“Hopefully in the future, we’ll be able to add additional buses, and we can get those 60 minutes down to 30 minutes,” said Terrence Nealy, city public works director.

Nealy’s group has been hard at work bringing the new transit system, which he believes will serve many in the community.

“I’m excited to be associated with Rock Hill,” he said. “A community that is an example of excellence. A community where the leaders and the residents never stop seeking the best for the city. That’s a lot to say.”

Still, city leaders ask for patience as they work out early kinks.

“This is new,” Popple said. “The easy way to do things is just to do what’s been done for the last 100 years. But I don’t know of another community that’s taken such a bold and innovative step.”

It may not be a new football team, but if more people can get to classes, job interviews, medical appointments and the many other places My Ride can take them, Gettys sees every bit the same reason to celebrate.

“Another great addition to Rock Hill,” he said. “Another great addition for our community. Another opportunity for us to continue to build wealth and prosperity for all of our people.”

By John Marks, Staff Reporter with The Herald