City Council hears update on SWFT van pool transit program
Program provides employee vanpool transit option for major county employers
At their meeting on Monday, Spartanburg City Council heard an update on the City's SWFT program, a workforce transit option first launched earlier this year. Created in partnership with Enterprise, OneSpartanburg, Inc., the United Way of the Piedmont and SC Works of the Upstate, the service provides a sustainable shared vanpool option to connect those with transportation needs to economic opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach.
The service is currently available for three large employers, with a total of vanpools in operation. So far, 22 riders use the SWFT program to get their jobs, and the City and its partners continue to reach out to other large employers to grow the program. Funded by City public transit dollars with subsidies from partnering organizations, each employer SWFT program is customized to the specific needs of its five or more vanpoolers. The remaining cost is split among participants, with each vanpool rider paying a set fee per month.
Participants in the SWFT program choose a qualifying vanpool vehicle from Enterprise’s selection of makes and models that includes crossovers, SUVs, minivans and large passenger vans. Vanpoolers may choose to upgrade their vehicles with optional high-end features such as satellite radio, in-vehicle Wi-Fi service and power ports for individual seats.
Council also heard from dozens of speakers during the public comment portion of Monday's meeting expressing opposition to the City's decision to cease a temporary overnight sheltering program at the Spartanburg Opportunity Center. City Council was not slated to take any action on the decision to cease the center's night shelter operations.
First emerging from the work of the Spartanburg Homeless Task Force—a collaborative effort between the City and a wide array of community partners—the Spartanburg Opportunity Center was initially conceived and opened in 2019 as a day shelter for folks experiencing homelessness in Spartanburg. Since opening, the center has provided and continues to provide those in need with a safe space to shower, receive mail, do laundry, charge devices, and connect with service providers and case management professionals, filling a critical role in our community by providing basic services and a path forward for many who need it most.
Though the facility was never envisioned as an overnight shelter, the City began allowing OpportunityHub! (formerly SPIHN) to offer overnight sheltering on a limited, emergency basis during the pandemic to help alleviate capacity reductions made at Miracle Hill Rescue Mission due to social distancing. Recognizing the increasing need for such space in Spartanburg, the City extended this arrangement, allowing the Opportunity Center to serve as an overnight shelter on a temporary basis to the current date.
According to City Police Department statistics, the City has seen a dramatic increase in calls for police service at the Opportunity Center property, rising from just 19 in the first nine months of 2020 to 539 service calls over the same time period in 2022. Additionally, the City has received and continues to receive complaints from nearby residents concerned about nighttime activity at the Opportunity Center and how that activity impacts their community.
Taken together, these factors have led the City to make the difficult decision to cease the Opportunity Center’s overnight sheltering program, according to City leadership.
Recognizing the disruption this will cause for those experiencing homelessness who have utilized the center’s overnight sheltering option, City management says the City will be using its resources and working with the United Way of the Piedmont and other community partners to find other arrangements for those in need and remains committed to working with partners to increase the amount of shelter space available in our community.
In other action, Council approved an increase in pay for City Council members and the Mayor in a 4-2 vote. Council members Jamie Fulmer and Rob Rain voted against and Council member Meghan Smith was absent due to illness. The increase is the first for Council and the Mayor since 1998 and raises the pay for Council members from $9,000 per year to $14,000 and raises the pay for the Mayor from $16,000 to $21,000 annually. After a second reading at the next City Council meeting, pay increases will go into effect on January, 2024.
For more from Monday’s meeting, see the full video below.