Taylor Foxx

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — Last month, Winthrop University and Piedmont Medical Center agreed to a $1.5 million deal to help bring free, electric bus service to Rock Hill beginning in April.

The deal will last five years, including an option for two more, with Winthrop contributing $1 million and Piedmont contributing $500,000.

The agreement gives the university 30 percent, and the hospital 15 percent, of the advertising space on and inside the buses, along the bus stands and online.

The advertising, Winthrop leaders said, could help attract new students and increase the visibility of the university.

“This is a significant investment, but one that will reap dividends for us, as word about Winthrop spreads to thousands of newcomers to York County and to visitors the city of Rock Hill is drawing to its world-class sports venues,” said Dan Mahony, Winthrop president.

“We are strategically positioned as a well-regarded comprehensive university in the midst of this local growth and development, but also in one of the fastest growing areas of South Carolina,” he said.

The plan will give residents free transportation, using seven electric buses, along four routes throughout the city, including a stop at Winthrop.

The deal is deal is expected to cost between $2.5 million and $2.7 million per year, but city leaders have said roughly 80 to 85 percent of that could be covered by a federal grant.

Officials hope the service will give residents more access to some of Rock Hill’s fast-growing areas, such as downtown.

McKenna Brandon, a senior designer with the Social Design House on Main Street in Rock Hill, said she is excited about the new bus plan and the growth she has seen in the downtown area.

“A lot has been happening in the past few years, even since I graduated from Winthrop in 2012. A lot of new local businesses have opened up; there is a new brewery and another one opening up,” said McKenna.

“I think the new bus system will help connect different parts of Rock Hill that are somewhat spread out.”

Another goal of the plan, at least from Winthrop’s perspective, is to connect students, who live on campus and don’t have a vehicle, with other parts of the city. About 40 percent of Winthrop students don’t own a car, according to the school.

Kamrie Owens, an illustration major at Winthrop, said she thinks the new bus plan is a good investment for the university, because it will benefit students.

“If a student doesn’t have their own form of transportation and they don’t always want to be a burden to their friends, by always asking them for a ride, it will really be helpful and beneficial to them,” said Kamrie. “Especially if they want to apply for internships and go to work that is off campus.”