Public transportation east of Cooper rolling now

  • Thursday, October 3, 2013

The CARTA No. 11 bus makes a stop at the Charleston County Airport. Despite new landscaping or pavement, no bench or shelter is available here but the trip home to Mount Pleasant after your wait in the sun is only $2.05. Hungryneck Straphangers will advocate stop improvements here as part of the new airport renovation. PHOTO PROVIDED

Improved stops and better public bus transit service should allow Mount Pleasant to achieve record levels of ridership as monthly ridership on the area’s three routes moves past 27,000 this fall.

Ridership East of the Cooper peaked in Winter 2012 before road construction on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard resulted in the loss of sidewalks and stops along much of the primary No. 40 bus route between Wando High School and downtown Charleston. Ridership on this route plummeted more than 2,941 rides per month since many elderly and disabled passengers found it impossible to get to their stops. Most of the benches and stop infrastructure along the routes disappeared under the bulldozer blade, leaving bus riders with no safe place to wait. Despite years of promises at public hearings, bus stops were not planned for when the new $100 million road was designed, forcing the town and Hungryneck Straphangers to start from scratch along most of the route after the new road was finished.

The Town of Mount Pleasant has shown real commitment to providing comfortable places for the public to wait and toward getting the road right for transit. Three new stops with metal benches have been constructed on Wingo Way (near the hotels), on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard (near Bowman and the Arbys) and on Johnnie Dodds opposite Wando Crossing Shopping Center. An unused bus shelter on Ben Sawyer will be repaired and relocated to Houston Northcutt Boulevard opposite Whole Foods. Mount Pleasant Town Centre will be required to build two bus stop shelters on or near Market Center Drive to support the new hotel and expanded retail project recently approved there.

Volunteers working with Hungryneck Straphangers have placed two temporary benches at stops on Johnnie Dodds, near the Shelmore BI-LO and, with the support of East Cooper Community Outreach, on Six Mile Road.

After heavy rains depressed improving ridership in June and July, August ridership numbers show that these better sidewalks, improved stops and improved bus service every 40 minutes on weekdays and Saturdays are building a better utilized system. The No. 40 bus carried 14,040 passengers in August, its highest monthly ridership since March 2012. The new 41 route, running along Coleman Boulevard to and from downtown Charleston achieved a record ridership of 2,438 in August, increasing from 2,065 in June.

Once perpetually in the CARTA basement, Mount Pleasant’s routes now outperform some other CARTA routes including the North Beltline and North Area Shuttle. CARTA’s best drivers now compete in the lottery for the opportunity to driver East Cooper routes. More riders are using Tri-County Link’s buses to get to McClellenville and Monck Corner from Mount Pleasant. While staffing cuts downtown have cut into Express Bus ridership, the No. 2 carried 10,178 passengers in August.

Paper schedules are becoming obsolete. Bus trips anywhere on CARTA (and in most other cities) can now be planned automatically on Google Maps or the www.ridecarta.com website. Bus Tracker now provides real time ETAs for your stop based on Google Transit data, historic traffic data and GPS data transmitted from the bus which you can receive over the internet or on your smart phone. Hungrneck Straphangers provides detailed web pages on all the routes at www.busec.org.

A strong partnership between the Town of Mount Pleasant, CARTA, Hungryneck Straphangers and the bus drivers should be able to continue to increase ridership and revenue here. This is critical because CARTA evaluates service based on these criteria and routes which don’t perform get cut, as the 402 Island Flex Bus serving the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island was last winter. However, North Charleston has proven good stops, good sidewalks and frequent service can build a powerful bus line. The No. 10 Rivers Avenue moved 100,028 passengers in August.

Hungryneck Straphangers needs your help to build on the town’s wonderful progress with public transit this fall.

If you have a school or community group which would like to learn more about the system and how it can enhance your life, Hungryneck Straphangers have presentations available for your group.

If your neighborhood and business is near a bus stop which doesn’t have a place to sit, the group will be happy to work with you on options ranging from an inexpensive temporary bench which seats four and costs less than $60 to a permanent bus shelter erected with the support of the town.

In the upcoming town elections, be sure to ask candidates for mayor and council if they have been on area buses and what they would do to help the town retain and improve bus service. Hungryneck Straphangers will be asking those questions at the candidates’ debates.

Try CARTA buses now. Use them to get your Wando High School student to a stop near home after extracurricular activities. Try parking pleasantly and playing downtown, leaving your car near home and taking the bus to downtown Charleston and its free DASH bus service. Use Google Transit trip planning and bus tracker to figure out your trip and know when your bus is coming. Make hiring new employees or renting property easier by letting people know your property or business is on a bus line.

If your neighborhood is interested in working with Hungryneck Straphangers, please contact them through the website: www.busec.org or call 843-870-5299.

Years of work are paying off. Hopefully the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island will get another try with a bus route this summer. Success here takes a community working on small changes to achieve a big goal. Public transit east of the Cooper is a journey we make together, and we’re rolling now.

William Hamilton is an attorney who lives in the I’On Community and is the coordinator of Hungryneck Straphangers, an affiliate organization of Americans for Transit.

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