The city of Rock Hill launched a new, free bus service in July, with four loops beginning and ending downtown. Planners decided to use electric buses, making it the first bus system in the country to go electric from the start.
Rock Hill's new "My Ride" service began July. It's free and operates all day long on four fixed loops. They run about an hour each, and connect downtown with businesses and services. One circles downtown and Winthrop University. Another visits Piedmont Medical Center and the west side of town. A third heads northeast on Cherry Road to Riverwalk and back. And the fourth goes along Dave Lyle Boulevard and connects downtown with Galleria Mall.
In the first month, My Ride buses averaged 2,500 passengers a week - which is in line with projections for the summer months, said CEO Erick Hawkins.
"We get compliments every day, as far as I can now get a job, I can get to the doctor's office, I've never been to this part of the city and now the bus is carrying me to this part of the city," Hawkins said.
He said once Winthrop University classes resume and summer ends, he expects 4,000 or more riders a week.
Rider Stacey Williamson likes having a bus in town, to get to appointments or take her son places. "There's so much that you can do with the bus system now. Rock Hill is like a mini Charlotte," she said, laughing.
All the buses stop regularly at Rock Hill's new transit hub, a series of bus shelters next to Laurelwood Cemetery. They're equipped with USB charging ports at every seat and free wi-fi on board.
My Ride's buses are in addition to York County's reservation-only ride service, which charges $2.50 each way to get people to work or appointments. It's also not Rock Hill's first attempt at a public bus system. A couple of decades ago, the city contracted with a private company, but it didn't catch on, said city spokeswoman Katie Quinn.
"Now Rock Hill is a very different place than it was 20-30 years ago. So I think that now we've got the population and the amenities that people want and need to make this a success," Quinn said.
About 74,000 people now live in Rock Hill, up from about 50,000 20 years ago. Rock Hill will spend $1.7 million on the bus system this year, not including the buses. Winthrop, Piedmont Medical Center and Family Trust Federal Credid Union are helping pay for the buses, Hawkins said.
"This is a free system, which is very rare in any city ... brand new buses, it's 100 percent electric. So the city of Rock Hill is really doing something that a lot of cities haven't done," Hawkins said.
Hawkins started in February, coming to My Ride from Asheville, where he was safety director of a system that also just introduced electric buses. In Asheville, hilly terrain has drained batteries quicker than expected. But Hawks says so far Rock Hill's buses have performed "exceptionally."
"They're doing a lot better than we had projected them to do. … To leave a bus on the road longer than projected, you know, it's a benefit for the entire operation," Hawkins said.
Rock Hill's buses are from a California company called Proterra, which has a plant in Greenville, SC. Proterra CEO Ryan Popple says improvements in technology make electric buses suitable for at least half the routes on U.S. bus systems.
"The energy storage capabilities, the batteries, and the range of just your average bus, has gone up every couple years," he said.
Five years ago, Proterra's buses had a maximum range per charge around 50 miles. Now they average from 150 to 250 miles depending on the battery size and conditions.
Rock Hill has seven buses. Four are on the road at any one time, with the other three taking over when a bus gets below a 30 percent charge. Hawkins said they take four to six hours to fully charge.
A NEW TRANSIT OPTION
My Ride is changing the way people get around. Rider Corrie Feely says he used to walk everywhere, but he's now a regular rider.
"It's very beneficial to me because I don't have a car. I takes me the places I need to go … I hope it lasts," Feely said, laughing.
CEO Hawkins wants it to grow.
"We have four routes. To service the entire city of Rock Hill is going to take a lot more buses, a lot more manpower," he said.
Hawkins already has a list of potential new stops, including the Carolina Panthers' planned practice facility in Rock Hill.
More about the system and schedules at https://myriderockhill.com/