Monday, June 28, 2010

FRAC Meeting Tomorrow....

On Tuesday June 29th at 5:30pm at the Charleston County Library (Main Branch – Calhoun St) the CARTA Fixed Route Advisory Committee (FRAC) will be meeting

What is FRAC?

The FRAC (Fixed Route Advisory Committee) meetings are intended to seek feedback from members of the community who are particularly interested in transit-related issues. They are informal and open to whoever would like to attend. Meetings are slated monthly.

The meetings are led by a CARTA representative, but the topics of discussion are almost entirely determined by committee members. Minutes aren’t taken; only informal notes that are acted upon, as appropriate, and reported on at the next meeting. Committee members do not have formal responsibilities. Again, the hope with this committee is to open a dialogue between riders, CARTA, and any other interested citizens. We need ideas and suggestions to meet the transportation needs of the communities we serve—basically, we need people who can be our “eyes and ears”…to tell us when something needs to change, or when something is really working well!

If you would like to be a FRAC member and advise us about how to make the bus system work better for riders, please send an email to, with a subject line of FRAC, and your contact information, and someone will be in touch with you soon.

I was able to get some time off tomorrow for this meeting, will post the results in the next few days!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Carfree Under the Hot, Southern Sun...

Victoria, in her blog Smaller Living posted about trying to go carfree or at least carlite in Phoenix, Az and how the combination of summer heat and pollution in her area forced her into driving five months out of the year.  Oh, how I can relate! Fortunately here in Charleston smog is not an issue - instead we have the high humidity adding to the blistering temps, putting the heat index over one-hundred degrees on a regular basis. Just as our winter was colder than normal this year, we've hit the triple-digits earlier than usual. This is my second summer of walking and relying on public transportation, so I've learned a few tricks to deal with being carfree during Charleston's hottest months.

My work mornings start off with packing my food and snacks for the day in a large insulated lunch bag. I include several reusable icepacks purchased at Walmart last summer, for ninety four cents each. Talk about a great investment! The lunch bag came from my employer, one of the goodies they gave everyone for reaching some kind of goal. My stainless steel water bottle, filled halfway and stuck in the freezer the night before gets topped off,  and goes in the bag as well if there's room. Otherwise it goes in one of the pockets of my rolling backpack while the lunch bag goes in the main compartment.  I pack a complete change of clothes in the rolling backpack, as my outfits for walking and riding the bus are far from the business casual wear required by my employer!

Getting dressed for the day begins with a good layer of sunscreen as I'm already quite well -tanned. I skip the blow-dryer and makeup after my shower. Between the humidity and the sweat both are a wasted effort. My hat flattens my hair anyway. I have two primary outfits I tend to rotate, because they're so perfect for my needs. A pair of cotton gauze capris with a matching camisole made of organic cotton, layered over a cotton sports bra. Socks are either cotton or bamboo. Footware is one of two great pairs of athletic shoes that I alternate. One is well-cushioned while the other is designed for moderate support. The shoes don't help with the heat, but are essential for lots of walking! And of course this is all topped off with the hat pictured above.

When I walk I try to avoid the road, parking lots, and sidewalks. Walking on grass or even dirt is preferable to concrete, asphalt, or even worse a black-topped parking lot. Not only is it cooler, but it's easier on my heels and knees. Whenever possible I try to walk on the shadier side of the street. Of course it's always safety first, so sometimes I have to pass up the cooler, easier options to make sure I don't trip and fall or get hit by a car.

At work I have a luxury not everyone has, a fitness center with a locker room that includes showers and blow dryers. While I don't usually need the shower, they provide a nice place to change into a dry, more professional looking outfit. And I do mean a complete change of clothes, as every article is quite damp by the time I make it to work. As I arrive almost an hour early most days, I have plenty of time to blow dry my hair and apply makeup if I have an urge to do so. A second application of deodorant is also a must!

My rolling backpack has been a godsend, and the best thirty dollars I've ever invested! In addition to my food and clothes it's stuffed with what I need to get through a day away from home. An absolute must is my glucose meter and tablets, and cell phone. Other items I might need on my travels include allergy eye drops, ibuprofen, bus schedules, my digital camera, extra deodorant, folding umbrella, sunblock, and a small bottle of bug repellent. I also pack a small bag of cosmetic items and a hairbrush. Sometimes I toss in my netbook. Everything I pack is based on where I'm going, what I will need while I'm gone, and what I may need in an unexpected situation. The other consideration is weight. Sample size bottles or little baggies rule! I jazzed up the bag with some matching stick-on reflectors from the automotive section,  that cost less than two dollars each. While the primary objective was safety at night, I like the fact they match the colors of my bag!

If it sounds complicated and like a lot of effort, actually it isn't. Most of my travel items stay in my bag or are packed in a smaller bag I can switch into a purse or tote bag if I chose to. I do get some looks and questions about the rolling backpack. Between a herniated disc in my lower back, and some upper back issues from the car accident, I try to avoid carrying too much weight. Even a heavily packed purse is too much when I'm out hiking around town and climbing the steps to the bus. I popped my backpack on a scale we have at work once when it was fully packed, it was around twenty pounds - imagine toting that on your back, or hanging from your shoulder when walking half a mile or further between destinations!

There's no doubt in my mind that Victoria's decision to purchase another vehicle in order to make it through the summer makes absolute sense, especially with the smog issue.  I'm not in a position to do the same, but I have found some ways to deal with the challenges that come with summertime here in Charleston. And I have to stress, when going carfree in Charleston, one must always have a backup plan - along with plans B and C, and sometimes even a plan D. When something goes wrong, as it often does, being flexible and prepared help keep anxiety and frustration from soaring along with the temps!

Friday, June 18, 2010

On a positive note...

While the last month has been fraught with aggravation and frustration, there ARE positive aspects to riding CARTA and taking advantage of public transportation. I don't have to worry about dealing with traffic or parking, especially when I make trips downtown. When I ride during rush hour, I may have to deal with being on a crowded bus, but the traffic is somebody else's problem! While I live in the "city" of  North Charleston, walking to the bus stops both in Park Circle and now the Northwoods area gives me the opportunity to enjoy the local flora and fauna. Walking is the best free exercise available. And there are no excuses, any place I have to go involves walking at least half a mile. Costwise I'm paying $37.50 a month for an unlimited pass, and an occasional cab fare. Weigh that against a car payment, insurance, gas, repairs and maintenance!

Over the past year I have seen acts of kindness and generosity I don't believe you'll see in many larger cities: a bus driver who actually parked the bus to walk an elderly passenger across a busy intersection, a young man who picked up a woman's full shopping cart and carried it off the bus for her, passengers all pitching in to make up somebody's fare, an older woman helping a young mother get her kids and groceries off the bus. I see these random acts of kindness on a daily basis, and it makes me more aware of the people around me as well as the opportunities to pass on a small kindness whenerver I have a a chance. So yes, public transportation can be inconvenient and extremely frustrating at times. But it does have it's perks!

Board Meeting Results....

I made it to the CARTA board meeting, which was quite long and mind-numbing. In fact, by the time we got to the end of the meeting where the public is invited to speak, half the board members had already left. I was the only visitor and got up to say my piece. I received an apology from the executive director Howard Chapman, and the chairman of the board Patterson Smith told me if I stayed after the meeting there were a number of people willing to talk to me, and listen to what I had to say. Ginger Stevens who is the general manager for Veolia sat down to speak with me at some length. Ms Stevens apologized for the customer service issue in particular. Mr Chapman also recommended I go to the North Charleston City Council meeting, and contact Councilman Bobby Jameson as he represents my district and had a part in getting the bus stop into Greenridge cancelled. Apparently CARTA has to have approval for their stops from the City Council.

So Councilman Jameson along with the president of a local Neighborhood Committe aka HOA engineered the elimination of the one stop. I still want to know, where were the public hearings, and who exactly is looking out for the safety and best interests of the passengers? That question hasn't been answered as yet. There also appears to be no clear-cut policy for notification of passengers when changes are made. In additon there seems to be a disconnect, or lack of communication between CARTA who oversees the bus service, and Veolia who is contracted to provide the services. In addition, all the local municipalities and various neighborhoods get to put in their two-cent's worth. I'm thinking maybe it's a case of too many cooks in the kitchen!  The bottom line however, seems to be that the cancellation of the stop coming out of Greenridge was temporary and due to a problem with Roadwise (the construction crew) blocking the lanes to the point the buses couldn't get through. Supposedly Roadwise has agreed to insure at least one lane is open at all times to prevent this issue from happening again.  For the last two days I have been able to catch bus 12 at Dial America as normal.

I did point out to the people I spoke with that with the roadwork, which I'm sure will take months to complete, there should be the option of an alternative stop on Rivers at Greenridge if the road closure were to occur again. The answer was it depends on what the city will allow them to do. Why, oh why, can't anything be simple?!

My plan of action at this point is to contact Bobby Jameson, and figure out how to get off early enough to hit the next city council meeting. As a bonus, I work right next to city hall, so transportation won't be an issue! I think finding and contacting that neighborhood committee, and paying them a visit is going to make the list. I'm also going to contact people at Dial America and Miller Motte Technical school, and all the property managers at the local apartment complexes to let them know what I've learned, and try to get them involved in resolving the issue as well. I think I may have fallen into becoming a community activist in addition to joining the carfree movement by accident!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Beginners' Guide to a Car-Less Commute

Beginners' Guide to a Car-Less Commute

Beginner's Guide to a Car-Less Commute: Public Transportation Edition

Beginner's Guide to a Car-Less Commute: Public Transportation Edition

board meeting tomorrow!

CARTA Board Meeting for June 2010
The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) will hold their June 2010 Board meeting at 2:00PM on Wednesday, 06/16/10, in the Charleston Museum, 360 Meeting Street, 1st Floor Meeting Room, Charleston, SC 29403. The public is invited

my response to the Mayor....

Mayor Summey,

I appreciate your response. My issue is to do with the apparent lack of policy or processes in place at CARTA, and what seems to be a total disregard for the passengers, I've just moved into this area and have no clue as to who the Northwood Estate Neighborhood Council is and who exactly they represent. Something tells me it comes back to a case of the "haves" vs. the "have nots". What process did CARTA follow to verify the issue, and what alternatives were discussed? Was there a study done? What about public hearings to address the needs and concerns of the passengers utilizing these stops, which should be CARTA's first priority? Where do I find a record of this? Why wasn't a stop put in place on Rivers and Greenridge heading towards Charleston? The first change was over a month ago and there are still no signs at the stops or on the buses to advise customers of these changes, nor is there a notice on the website. Because some of the drivers still don't know about the changes and still follow the original route, this leads to confusion for occasional passengers.

It's funny that every driver and passenger I've spoken with says the traffic issue is bogus, as do the property managers of my apartment complex. If you're driving behind a bus, you know it's going to stop. Which takes about two minutes. As to the road construction, I rode the buses every day last week (because even the drivers weren't notified of the changes) and there was no problem with the buses getting through. Peter Tecklenburg informed me when I called in about the first unannounced change that CARTA was expecting the road construction to start back in April so it shouldn't have been a surprise, and an alternative plan should have been in place.

The bottom line is the tenants of all the apartment complexes in my area, the students of the technical school, and employees of Dial America who utilize these stops are basically out of luck because we don't have a "neighborhood council" to represent us! Coming from Charleston we can get off at the convenience store and cross eight lanes of traffic at an extremely busy intersection. Going to Charleston or coming from the direction of Trident Medical Center we have the option of the stops about a mile away at either Kmart or Northwoods Mall, neither of which is easy or especially safe to walk to. In my book, a good public transportation system should be efficient, convenient, safe, dependable, affordable, and focused on it's passengers. At this point, after riding CARTA for ten months, I have to say it hits the mark when it comes to being affordable. I would be more than willing to pay double for my monthly pass if CARTA stepped up to the plate regarding the rest of those requirements!

I've already had to cut my ridership in half due to these issues, and will be cutting it even further. I feel sorry for those passengers who are stuck with substandard public transportation because they have absolutely no other choice. I would love to challenge you and the other board members to put on your walking shoes, and make the trip back and forth to work with me a few times. Maybe that would put things in perspective before any more changes are made without taking the needs of CARTA's passengers into account.

Thank you again for your response.

Kathi Dubuque

Mayor Summey's Response...

Ms. Dubuque,

Thank you for writing me. Several months ago, the Northwoods Estate Neighborhood Council approached CARTA regarding traffic hazards entering Greenridge Road from River Avenue. It was requested by the Neighborhood Council that CARTA cease making bus stops for entering traffic onto Greenrigde Road or on northbound CARTA routes. Realizing the safety issue as traffic backed up onto Rivers Avenue, CARTA granted the request. However, traffic exiting Greenridge onto Rivers Avenue has a bus stop specifically for the Dial-America vicinity. Unfortunately, last week the construction on Greenridge Road prohibited the CARTA buses from entering or exiting the road, due to their size. Furthermore, CARTA was not appropriately contacted by the road construction company. Therefore, they had no opportunity to notify riders in advance of the change in service. I regret that you were not made aware of the changes. All parties are now aware of your concerns and this issue should not occur again. For future traffic redirections and interruptions, CARTA should be notified in advance in order to inform all riders of any changes in service.

I hope this information finds you well.

Sincerely, R. Keith SummeyMayor


Ok, so Monday I venture out and try walking down to Northwoods Mall to catch bus 10 up Rivers Ave. Talk about a nightmare! Dragging a rolling bookbag through the grass is impossible and walking right along the white line with trucks and cars racing by at ninety-or-nothing is frightening. I took my son's advice and went all the way across Rivers Ave to walk through the parking lots. Much easier on the walking and the bag, but the heat index was 105, and I'm trekking across the blacktop under the blazing sun, not a twig in sight for shade. Ugh! And I forgot to turn on my Smartrunner app to track my mileage. One of the benefits of my job is an on site fitness center, so I take advantage of the locker room to cool down, change, etc once I get to work. It's a lifesaver!

Today I decide to take the back way to Kmart, down Antler. It's a quiet two-lane road, plenty of shoulder room but they tend to be either grassy or rocky, sometimes swampy. During the day it's like taking a walk out in the country. It will be a shame when they clear out the wooded areas for yet more subdivisions. As I'm headed down the drive from my apartment complex, what comes rolling up to the intersection from Kmart, turning on Greenridge Road? Bus 12, which is no longer supposed to be going this way! I'm too far away to flag the bus down, and I want to see how the trek to Kmart will work anyway, so off I go. Lovely but extremely hot walk. According to Smartrunner it was 1.45 miles. Bonus: directly across from the bus stop is a McDonald's! If I ever get to the stop early enough I might treat myself for breakfast one morning.

I get on bus 12 and ask the driver to do me a favor, check with dispatch about bus 12. Surprise! Yes, bus 12 once again goes down Antler and Greenridge and stops at Dial America. This driver is one of the good ones though, she advises me that service at that stop will depend on what's going on with the road construction. Ok, well my job isn't going to give me a free pass every time somebody decides today bus 12 can't go down Greenridge! So I'll stick to the longer trek to catch bus 10 and bypass the frustration of dealing with the erratic service on bus 12. My next post will include the response I got from Mayor Keith Summey. I'm very impressed that he answered my email. (in fact he's the only one who did) Unfortunately it was more of the same. Board meeting tomorrow!

Monday, June 14, 2010

and then it happens again!

This is why I decided it was time to start blogging about my carfree experiences in Charleson:

After a month of taking bus 12 from the stop in front of Dial America on Greenridge Rd five or more days a week, I got on Saturday morning headed to Publix for some food shopping. Spent the entire trip chatting with the bus driver, had lunch, and did my shopping. Awesome day so far! Heat index was supposed to be 103-104 so I threw 2 half-frozen bottles of water into the insulated cooler with icepacks that I carry for grocery shopping. The schedule for bus 12 is still not available online, and none of the buses carry a hard copy, so while I'm shopping I make 4 calls to CARTA to find out what time the bus will be in front of Burger King for the trip home. I held for over 10 minutes on the first 3 calls before giving up, on the 4th call I hold for 14 minutes. It's 2:09 and the next bus I'm told will be there at 2:39. I haul my rolling backpack loaded with meat etc in the insulated cooler, along w/ the two reusable shopping bags I'm carrying down to Burger King. The plan is sit inside with a meal and a shake until about 10 minutes before the bus is due, in order to keep myself and my groceries from cooking in the hot sun. I'm sitting in sight of the bus stop the whole time. And this is where the day begins to unravel....

After standing in the blazing sun for 20 minutes I start trying to call CARTA at 2:49. At 2:59 I called yellow cab, preferring to pay the $15 fare rather then continuing to wait indefinitely for a bus that apparently wasn't coming, or was running extremely late. At 3:04 the bus pulls up. When I asked if the person I spoke with gave me the wrong time, the driver told me he couldn't say as to when the bus was supposed to be there, as he just picked up the bus. I ride through to Kmart, planning to get back off at Dial America, where I had gotten on earlier in the day. The bus driver pulls the bus around and parks facing towards Rivers Ave, instead Antler. When asked he tells me they are no longer going down Greenridge Rd, instead returning by way of Rivers Ave. BOTH stops on Greenridge have now been cancelled, supposedly due to the road construction! He can't explain why I had just gotten on at that stop, and he and the driver from bus 10 both contact the dispatcher to verify. So now I have to walk a mile home, in the blazing heat with all my groceries. Antler has no sidewalks and a very rough shoulder down which I have to drag my loaded rolling backpack filled with groceries. And I'm carrying 2 shopping bags as well. Difficult but doable from the regular stop, agonizing when I have to walk twice as far!

Back on the phone I go while lugging my stuff home. The first rep I speak with offers to take my complaint, then tells me I need to call and speak to a supervisor Monday morning. She then hangs up on me. Rep number 2 is Kim, who assures me the stop at Dial America is still in service and I will have no trouble getting bus 12 to work on Monday morning. When I explain what just happened she puts me on hold to talk to "them", dispatch maybe? After holding for 10 minutes she comes back on and says she'll try again. Next I get Ron who refuses to tell me his job title, and asks me repeatedly, "What's your problem?" When I ask about the stop on Greenridge he advises it was cancelled two days ago. "Really? I've used that stop everyday since Monday, including this morning?!" Ron's response is that "The drivers must not have gotten the message then." When I ask how I, and the others who depend on this stop are supposed to get to work, and what alternatives we have, Ron's answer is, "That's not my problem, you'll have to call CARTA." When I advise him how much I appreciate his concern for the passengers, Ron also hangs up on me. At this point I'm beyond irate, I'm totally p.o.'d! After tracking down names and emailing several CARTA board members including Mayor Keith Summey, the Veolia supervisor Ms. Wigfall, and a local news reporter, I went to work setting up this blog. My purpose is to post the good, the bad, and the ugly in regards to living carfree in Charleston, SC via CARTA.

On Wednesday I will be attending, and posting about my trip to the monthly board meeting of CARTA. For today I have to decide whether I want to trek to Kmart or the mall to catch bus 10 to work. Both trips are about a mile, both are equally non-friendly for walkers, especially one who's pulling a rolling backpack due to back issues. I'll be bringing extra bottles of water as today's heat index will be reaching 110, and I'll have to pack a change of clothing as spaghetti strap tank tops and shorts don't qualify as business casual for work. I'll also be posting a sign on the bench at the cancelled stop letting people know who to contact to file a complaint!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

passengers left stranded by unannounced change...

So there I was, all excited about my new move, all the great options available to me etc. I moved in on Saturday May 8th, and got busy, riding the bus all weekend to get my errands taken care of. Monday May 10th I got to the stop out of the neighborhood, to find several confused and irate passengers talking about how the stop across the street, coming into Greenridge Rd had been cancelled. Now, considering I had spoken with CARTA, ridden the buses, and discussed my options for getting to work with several of the drivers in the past few days, I was just a little perturbed. The multiple phone calls and conversations with CARTA that followed soon put me in the irate category. I posted a synopsis of those conversations on facebook and am including it here as well:

First I called CARTA's "customer service" number where I spoke with a 12 year-old who was trying to read me her turn-by-turn directions,

CSR: "bus 10 won't go down greenridge anymore. it will turn right on rivers, go all the way to kmart and turn left, then make a right on greenridge and a rght on antler."

Me: um, no, that's not possible. the kmart is past greenridge and you've just jumbled the old route and the new route together.

CSR: " wait a minute" shuffling and mumbling. "ok, bus 10 will come down rivers to greenridge and take antler to kmart."

Me: " you just said bus 10 is no longer going to come down greenridge!"

CSR: "wait a minute" horrible hold music

CSR: repeating what the voice behind her is saying, "buses 10 and 12 will go down rivers to the kmart" bus 12 won't go up greenridge anymore but will come down greenridge when it leaves the kmart."

Me: "when and why were these changes made, and why weren't the passengers notified?!" CSR: "I don't know, we were just told today"

Me: "that's really crappy customer service!"

Call #2 to CARTA was to speak with a supervisor who I've dealt with in the past. The phone was answered by the 12-year-old again.

Me: may I speak with Ms W please?"

CSR "Ok, but she's going to tell you the same thing I just did" I listened to the crappy hold music for 4 minutes

CSR 2: "CARTA, how can I help you?"

Me: I"m holding for MS WCSR 2: oh, you have to call back and put in extension 126

Me: y'all put me on hold for 4 minutes to tell me I have to call and put in an extension?!

Call 3 to CARTA,

I explained to Ms W (a supervisor for Veolia, the company that provides the drivers ) that I was standing at a bus stop w/ 6 other irate people because apparently our buses were no longer following the same route, and passengers were basically stranded. She gave me the the following explanation:

Ms W " We were just notified by CARTA on Friday that the stop was eliminated and the routes have been changed. Therefore the drivers and dispatchers weren't aware of the changes when you spoke with them, and that's why the CSR's are confused about the changes. The change was due to safety issues because when the bus stops there it holds up traffic.

Me: how do you do that without letting the passengers know? Who do we contact to complain?

Ms W: you can go to the monthly board meeting on the 3rd weds of the month, at 2pm

Me: that's great, except I, and most of your passengers WORK on weekdays at 2pm! Isn't there a person I can call, email or write to?

Ms W: you can try calling Peter, he handles the scheduling.

Me: can you please clarify where buses 10 and 12 are supposed to stop?

Ms W: 10 goes up rivers to Kmart, then continues onto Trident, so you need to get off at the convenience store on the other side of Rivers Ave (8 lanes of traffic!). 12 goes up Rivers to Kmart and will come back down Greenridge Rd and stop in front of Dial America.

I left Mr Peter a long, irate voicemail. Bus 106 then stops, and the driver informs us we need to get on and ride to the mall if we want to catch bus 10 or 12 as no other bus will stop in front of dial america.

Me: but Ms W just said bus 12 will stop here in 10 minutes.

Driver bus 106: "you can wait but it's not coming this way"

Me: "so now I get to call the supervisor and tell her she's got it wrong?

Driver bus 106: I'm not saying that, but bus 12 doesn't come down greenridge going either direction. So we all get on bus 106 to the mall.

Driver bus 12 later that day: "some of us were told late Friday, but most weren't told about the changes until this morning. Yes, we do come back down Greenridge from Kmart but we don't go up that way."

I contacted a friend who knows people, to ask if she happens to have the name of somebody higher up I can complain to. She told me to call CARTA back and ask for MR C.

CSR 3: "oh, he's at the dowtown office, you need to call this other number."

Secretary: "I can give him the message but I'm not sure he'll be back in today."

15 minutes later I get a call back from Mr Peter, who was returning my call to Mr C, because apparently Mr C was too busy to get back to me.

Mr Peter: (in charge of scheduling) "We've known about this for some time and informed the drivers. They were supposed to tell the passengers but of course some drivers aren't as friendly as others and don't talk to the passengers. and since their schedules just changed and they are new to the routes they might not know who the regulars are."

Me: "ok, I was told that there were public notices and public hearings announced to discuss the changes. Where and when? The last hearing/public notice I found in the local paper was back in November regarding changes to the route for bus 106. Doesn't it make sense to post notices on the buses and at the stop? I took a cab home and some poor lady is standing out there waiting on a bus that isn't coming. There isn't even an announcement or notice on YOUR website! In fact, some of the route information such as buses 12 and 106 is unavailable!"

Mr Peter: "we have someone new handling the website and the transition to another server is causing issues with the website for the last month or so. it's more complicated then it seems...."

All this and then when I came home from work on bus 12 two nights later, the driver came down Greenridge Road and stopped at the original stop!

Me: "I thought this wasn't a stop anymore?"

Driver bus 12: " this is the stop"

Me: I was told they changed the route

Driver, with a shrug, "I don't know"

So that was where things stood just a month ago....

the saga continues...

This blog is not intended simply as a forum to whine and complain, or to blast CARTA for it's ineptitude. Living a carfree lifestyle can be inconvenient, time consuming, and frustrating, especially when you're relying on public transportation that is unreliable (more on that later). However it can also be cost-effective and has it's own perks and benefits. At a fee of just $37.50 a month, an unlimited pass is hard to beat. Compare that to the cost of a car payment, insurance, gas, repairs and maintanence, and it's an awesome savings! In addition, I got to watch the seasons change up close and personal while enjoying my daily walks through Park Circle to the stop each morning. Took and posted tons of pics on my facebook of the trees, flowers, clouds etc that I might never have noticed during my 6 minute commute by car. Park Circle was a great area to live in, and it was great to have restaurants and a small convenience store in walking distance. Not many people can walk home after an evening with friends at 1am, and feel perfectly safe doing so! However, after months of being able to rely on my upstairs neighbors in a pinch, they moved a few blocks away. Their situation changed, and so did our schedules. I wasn't happy with my apartment itself and the landlord was horrible. I started looking elsewhere and used an apartment locating service to find a place on a better bus route.

Living in Park Circle turned out to have it's limitations when it came to riding the bus. Bus 104 only runs every hour, so if you miss it you're stuck. To get any place from Park Circle you have to make at least 1 transfer, sometimes multiple transfers. The last bus home from work runs at 8:20 pm, so if I get off the phone at work at 8, I have to take a cab home. On Sundays bus 101 doesn't run at all, and on Saturdays bus 104 starts running later. The apartment locator found me a great apartment on not one, not two, but three different bus routes that gave me multiple options for getting to and from work. Located an equal distance from walmart, kmart and the mall, it appeared to be the perfect location! I hated to move from Park Circle, but it was time for a change. Multiple closets, a garbage disposal, dishwasher, ceiling fan, swimming pool, actual maintenance, all were calling my name. As for the buses, bus 10 runs every thirty minutes, bus 12 runs every 45 minutes, and bus 106 runs hourly. It seemed to be the perfect solution.

The saga begins...

On July 2nd of last year I totalled my car and discovered myself embarking on a new endeavor - getting around Charleston via CARTA, our version of public transportation. I had actually rented my apartment in Park Circle because it was close to work and a local bus stop. As a single person who values my independence I knew there may come a time when my car might temporarily be out of service. Of course I didn't expect it to become a way of life, but as they say, "The best laid plans of mice and men..."!

The first couple of weeks I had to rely on my neighbors for transportation, until my leg healed from the accident and I could actually walk the half mile to the bus stop. Then the adventure began. My first trip should have clued me in....I called CARTA and spoke with one of their "customer service" reps who told me I needed to get on bus 104 at the corner of N. Rhett and Park Circle. I noticed when I got to the stop that the sign only indicated bus 101, so when that bus pulled up and the driver advised me bus 104 didn't run through the circle, I got on for the trip to the Super Stop. The driver then contacted her dispatcher, who informed her that I did indeed need to catch bus 104 back at the original stop. So I called into work and took an hour of leave time to make up for the fact I had to wait until bus 101 returned me to the correct stop. So began my experience of dealing with CARTA, the mecca for misinformation, confusion, and long hold times with the world's crappiest hold music.

Don't get me wrong, I have always been a proponent of public trasportation, and have made use of bus services in other cities. And I have had some great experiences with both the drivers and passengers of CARTA. I went into the situation with full expectations that dealing with public transportation has it's inconveniences and flaws, and that patience and flexibility would be required. I learned quickly that I not only needed a backup plan, but plans C and D are a necessity as well. For the many who have spent years relying on CARTA I'm sure they've earned a place in the Matyr's Hall of Fame for their patience and suffering!