South Carolina’s workforce development office ran into a problem earlier this year. Big businesses including Amazon.com Inc. wanted to hire workers at their facilities in an industrial region outside the capital city of Columbia, but area residents looking for jobs couldn’t find a way to get there.
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,” James said.
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