Out of the Rain, Into the Future, On the Bus Now

  • Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Linda Page speaks to Congressional candidates Teddy Turner, Johnathan Hoffman and Larry Carter Center in rainy Kmart Parking Lot during CARTA ride on Feb. 7

On Feb. 7, three candidates for the United States Congress stood in the freezing rain by a CARTA bus stop sign behind the Arbys near Bowman Road. Teddy Turner (R), Mathew Hoffman (R) and Larry Carter Center (G) were getting the sort of education about the problems and opportunities of public transit east of the Cooper that reality pounds into the mind with the intense impression John Cameron only dreams of when he’s cooking up blue aliens flying through the third world of Pandora.

Since then, with somewhat better weather, Elizabeth Moffly (R), Tim Larkin (R) and Ric Bryant (R) have also taken a ride with the Hungrneck Straphangers.

Linda Page, of the CARTA board and Mount Pleasant Town Council has met with candidates for Congress to talk about Transit. So has Elliot Sumney.

What they need to know, is what East Cooper has learned in two years of intense effort to develop public transit, lessons our community is about to apply to two new bus routes. On Feb. 23 regular CARTA bus service to the Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island ended. The 401 bus route, which served Belle Hall and Long Point Road was also terminated. Neither route met ridership standards. It was time to redeploy precious transit resources to areas where the cost per rider would be lower.

One bus was added to the #40 Route between Wando High School and downtown, improving service to every 40 minutes Monday through Saturday and every hour on Sunday. Some runs of that bus are now standing room only in the morning and evening. The 40 is critical to delivering labor to the businesses along Johnnie Dodds Boulevard. It helps Wando students get home after extra curricular activities. With improved sidewalk systems to feed its stops and a history of reliable, on-time service delivered by determined drivers throughout the entire construction period, the 40 is a proven producer, now outperforming some downtown, West Ashley and North Charleston routes.

A new route was started on rapidly redeveloping Coleman Boulevard, the 41, which now connects directly to the Visitor’s Center in downtown Charleston and the Mary Street transit hub there. The 41 runs every 70 minutes out to the BI-LO Shopping Center near Page’s Thieves Market. This route makes a circular loop through the Ravenel Gateway District at the foot of the bridge, serving Patriots Point, Waterfront Park and Wingo Way.

The loop this bus makes is critical because it solves a major problem Mount Pleasant has discovered with the 40. We have 10 hotels in Patriots Point and along Wingo Way full of tourists who would like to ride public transit into Charleston, but they couldn’t do that without crossing a highway choked with lethal, roaring traffic. Hundreds of people also work long and hard at those hotels.

Now they have stops they can reach safely. Soon, thanks to the generosity of Mayor Swails, they’ll have a bench to sit on beside Wingo Way.

That loop allows Mount Pleasant to finally fully activate the “Park Pleasantly, Play Downtown” system where visitors stay in our hotels, generating employment and paying tourism taxes in Mount Pleasant.

It’s good for the visitor. They save $80 a night on their room and their kids get a pool. They can enjoy Waterfront Memorial Park and Patriots Point.

The Red Roof Inn has been promoting this for years, as have the other hotels where guests could safely walk to a stop on the 40 bus line (including the three near the IOP Connector and Hungryneck Boulevard).

As our town expands living options for residents, large new multi-family projects such as The Boulevard on Coleman Boulevard have been approved for locations near bus stops.

Our town needs more people to work and live here so our economy will work, but we don’t need more cars on our overcrowded roads. Residents of these new projects won’t need two cars for a family.

It is perfectly practical for some people to live in the Ravenel Gateway District or along parts of Coleman or Johnnie Dodds without owning a car now, as I’ve done for 13 years.

East Cooper Transit will be smarter soon. We’ve had online trip planning via Google Transit for more than a year. That’s being upgraded with more accurate information and new stop locations.

However CARTA is also on the verge of releasing real time transit information, based on GPS data transmitted from the buses through the cellular network to a system where you can know where your bus is and when it is expected to arrive at your stop based on what is happening now. The year long project to make this work circumvented an expensive established option to leverage new technology in Veolia’s own operating software, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. (Veolia is the private operating company which actually runs the CARTA buses and is the largest transit operating company on the planet.)

The system crashed this morning, but the technical people were under the hood sweating with it when I sat down to write.

Transit will work if our town comes together now to use these tactics and tools. We need tourists to ride the buses. We need politicians to ride the buses. We need you and your kids to ride the buses.

We need everyone because we’re going somewhere together in Mount Pleasant now.

(William Hamilton is the coordinator for Hungryneck Straphangers, East Cooper’s Public Transit advocacy organization. Connect with the group at www.busec.org or 843-870-5299.)

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