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It took coordinated action by state, county and regional transit officials—along with meetings with four businesses that had set up shop there—to lay out a plan for a new bus route several times daily across the Congaree River to a site well positioned for distribution and quick delivery of e-commerce orders but well beyond the reach of many workers who use public transit.

Until recently, “Nobody had a reason to go out there,” said Tiffany James, a spokeswoman for the transit authority, known as the Comet. “There’s nothing else out toward that way.”

As e-commerce drives the retail business from shopping districts to warehouses on the outskirts of cities, local governments are finding that their public transit systems need to reach more distant and sparsely populated areas, often outside the typical 9-to-5 workday. That is adding stresses to already-tight local and state budgets.

In Columbia, the new bus route was put on hold until January after the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority said some employers balked at its request that they help fund the route’s more-than $62,000 annual price tag. “The goal is for those services to be paid for by the businesses,” said Ms. James. One employer, Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. eventually agreed to partly fund a new bus route starting in January.

Ms. James said the route will be tailored for workers at Nephron’s site, which is about one mile from Amazon’s facility, but that anyone can ride the bus.

“In general it is challenging for transit to serve some of these locations because they are on the outskirts,” said Wendy Williams, a spokeswoman for OmniTrans, the San Bernardino County, Calif., transit agency in the midst of one of the nation’s busiest distribution hubs. “Transit works best in a highdensity environment, warehouses are more in the wide open spaces.”

Public transit agencies are spending more but ridership hasn’t kept pace. According to the American Public Transportation Association, spending on U.S. public transit rose by more than 50% between 2005 and 2015, reaching $65 billion in operating and capital spending nationwide.

“The bread and butter of public transportation” is getting people to and from work, said APTA President Paul Skoutelas. “It’s challenging, after the fact, to say, ‘We just opened this new facility and oh, by the way, we need to provide transit,’” he said.

Some federal programs provide funding to help local governments get people to work in peripheral and rural locations. And many businesses are working with local agencies to improve transit services to their new facilities.

Link to full Toronto Star article: Click Here

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