Rock Hill unveils free, clean My Ride bus with service to begin in June

Rock Hill’s newest — and free — transportation option is off and rolling. Next stop? Summer service connecting the city.

The city received its first My Ride bus, debuting it Tuesday morning at Fountain Park in downtown to a crowd of more than 100 people. My Ride buses start their routes July 1, with a downtown loop starting earlier on June 10.

“Today’s a day we get to celebrate, which we don’t just get to do enough in life,” Mayor John Gettys said at the unveiling Tuesday morning.

Buses will run 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with the Downtown/Knowledge Park Loop extending service to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Buses will run 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays. All 35-foot Proterra Catalyst buses are electric and feature free wi-fi, charging ports, “infotainment” screens and bike racks. All are ADA compliant with wheelchair ramps, automatic voice annunciation systems, destination and route signs and priority seating with wheelchair securing systems.

All bus rides are free, too.

“This is no ordinary bus,” Gettys said.

The Downtown/Knowledge Park Loop will run every 30 minutes connecting Winthrop University and downtown Rock Hill via Oakland Avenue, Main, Black, Wilson and West White streets. The loop will be the Blue Route.

The Green Route, or Saluda/Heckle Loop, will run hourly. It serves Piedmont Medical Center and Saluda and West Main streets, Herlong Avenue, and Heckle and Constitution boulevards.

The Yellow Route is the Cherry/Riverwalk Line. The hourly route connects downtown, Winthrop and Riverwalk via Cherry Road.

The Red Route, or Dave Lyle/Galleria Line, uses Dave Lyle Boulevard to connect downtown with the Galleria Mall. It also runs hourly.

While the routes aren’t running until the summer, people in Rock Hill are likely to start seeing the buses much sooner.

“You’ll see our buses out riding around and doing training seminars for the next two months,” said Erick Hawkins, city transit administrator.

They’ll also show up at community events to get people accustomed to the service before it begins. Hawkins said he still is hiring drivers, too. Applicants can find more information on the city website.

The idea of a bus service began with city leaders in 2016. Several said Tuesday that former Mayor Doug Echols was tenacious in making the bus service happen. Echols on Tuesday said the unveiling is an important step for the city. Major corporate sponsorships are a main reason why the city can offer fare-free rides.

“That means everybody can ride,” Echols said. “This is going to be extremely successful for our community.”

The power source is important too, he said.

“I think we’re the first city to start out with an all-electric fleet,” Echols said, echoing similar statements from city and bus service leaders Tuesday. “We’ll claim to be the first until someone corrects us.”

The seven electric buses will run quiet and clean. They don’t even have tailpipes.

“We think our system will be one of the cleanest-operating transit systems in the country as a result,” Gettys said.

Ashley Thomas used to live near where several routes will run.

“That’s great for the low-income community,” she said Tuesday about the free service

Mike Crusar came to the unveiling with several people from his company, Insignia. It’s located right along one of the bus routes. Coming from Charlotte, Crusar said he’s used to public transportation including buses. The all-electric, emission-free model debuted in Rock Hill, though, is something different.

“It’s kind of awesome,” Crusar said.

Buses were identified as a need years ago, but they also will serve a Rock Hill community still to come.

“This is an economic development tool that will bring change, wealth and prosperity to many more people in Rock Hill than have ever had that chance before in life,” Gettys said.

Dr. Dan Mahony, Winthrop University president, will have two routes coming onto his campus.

“When I arrived in 2015 and we talked with students about transportation needs, the thing that came up over and over again was the need for a bus system in this community,” he said. “And it was clear after a while that not only was it important to our students, but to our faculty, staff and really the entire Rock Hill community.”

Winthrop, Piedmont Medical Center and Family Trust Federal Credit Union partnered with the city to sponsor the buses.

“We’re part of this project to join with other community leaders and to provide a bigger community of caring for everybody, and the bus service is a part of that,” said Piedmont CEO Mark Nosacka.

Family Trust President and CEO Penny Pratt said part of her group’s mission is people helping people.

“I can’t think of a better way to fulfill it,” she said.

A transit hub is located on Laurel Street, between West White and Peachtree streets near the Family Trush headquarters. The hub will be relocated to a permanent location on the ground floor of a parking deck at University Center, on West White Street.

“This is an extremely vital service for our community, and there’s much to be celebrated here today,” Pratt said.

Gettys said there still is much to do ahead of service running in full on July 1.

“That will be another great day that we’ll gather to celebrate here in Rock Hill,” he said.

By John Marks, Staff Reporter with The Herald