COLUMBIA, S.C. — The COMET is studying a fare-free program for the transit system with a goal to increase ridership.

Currently children ages 15 and under can ride for free on The COMET and the Soda Cap Connector provides free rides throughout the city of Columbia. 

But the COMET is looking at going free for their entire system.  

"The purpose of the study is to see what would be the revenue loss to the COMET," says John Andoh, CEO of the Comet. "What could we reasonably gain by ridership gains as it relates to revenue and what would be the deficit that we would have to recover in order to make some type of a program work."

The COMET gets $2.5 million from ridership alone. However, the other $27 million dollars comes from the Richland Penny, federal transit funding, state mass transit funding as well as funding from Lexington County.

Andoh is looking towards more federal funding through what's called an Urbanized Area Formula Grant, but this is just in the study phase. The COMET is expected to analyze the data in November and December.  

"We envision doing this as a pilot to test and see what we learn from doing a fare free system," says Andoh.

The goal is to get more people riding daily.

"We want to make sure that we're providing value to the tax paying residents of Richland and Lexington Counties so that they take advantage of the service that they are basically funding."

There are already some people who can take advantage of a free ride.

Starting October 30, 2019, students, employees and faculty of Columbia College and Allen University can use the for system as long as they show a valid ID.

Alumni of Allen as well as employees of Lexington Medical Center can also take advantage.

This program was already in place for Richland One and Richland Two School districts, Lexington-Richland Five as well as Nephron Pharmaceuticals and Prisma Health.