Friday, July 30, 2010

Here's Your Sign!

Several weeks ago, before my netbook went on the fritz, passengers in the Greenridge Road area were still dealing with not knowing when or if bus 12 would actually pick us up at Dial America. That Thursday I headed down to cross Rivers Avenue where I catch bus 10 instead. I passed  in front of the bench at the bus 12 stop and told the young man sitting there that the bus wasn't coming (I had just watched bus 12 pass by on Rivers as I approached the stop), and he needed to head across the road to get bus 10 to Kmart in order to catch the next bus 12. Needless to say he wasn't happy as he was headed to Dorchester Road for a job interview. While we waited for our bus I spotted yet another passenger sitting on the bench waiting for a bus that wasn't coming.

Imagine my surprise the very next day when I approached the stop and saw this unofficial-looking, unsigned notice posted on the bus sign. letterhead, no signature. It didn't say whether Veolia or CARTA posted the sign. Just stated that due to road construction the stop was not in service, but there would be a temporary stop on Rivers Avenue in front of the Camping Store for buses 10, 12, and 106. Oh, and they did apologize for any inconvenience.

Call me a skeptic, but as I looked behind me at Greenridge Road, where there was NO roadwork going on, I shrugged and kept walking to the stop across the highway for bus 10. Once I boarded I asked the driver to confirm if the sign was legitimate. He agreed that it was, buses 12 and 106 were supposed to pick up in front of the Camping Store. When I advised him the sign included bus 10 he got on the radio to the dispatcher - and chaos ensued for about 20 minutes, as all of the drivers for the three routes proceeded to call in and ask dispatch to repeat the information. Quite a while later one of the drivers called in to advise that there was no sign in front of the Camping Store. Ummm....considering the number of permanent stops with no, or incorrect signs, did he really think they would post a sign for a temporary stop?!

It took more than two months for CARTA to finally post some type of notice, and to set up a temporary stop for the passengers who live, work, and go to school on Greenridge Road. The kicker? When I came home from work that same night the sign was gone, and buses 12 and 106 seem to be picking up consistently from Dial America ever since! For myself, I don't trust them.  I continue to cross eight lanes of traffic each morning, in order to make sure I actually have a dependable ride to work. All I can say is, "Here's your sign!"

Friday, July 16, 2010

TriCounty Link.....

TriCounty Link is one of the best-kept secrets in the Charleston area. According to a recent article in the Post and Courier, the S.C. Department of Transportation recently named TriCounty Link the Best Rural Public Transportation Provider of 2010 in the state. While the services are limited, they are important, particularly for those living in places such as Moncks Corner, Ridgeville and other rural locations. Take a look at the route maps to see what areas they cover, you'll be surprised at where public transportation is actually available!  TriCounty Link services Dorchester and Berkeley Counties, and has a partnership with CARTA to allow passengers to use the transfer from either service to go connect with and ride between the two, making Charleston accessible to these rural areas.

 I took advantage of this service last summer, using a CARTA transfer (only twenty-five cents) to ride a Tricounty Link bus to Moncks Corner. The smaller buses are clean and very comfortable, the drivers and office staff friendly and helpful. The biggest downside I found to the service was the limited availability, I was stranded in Moncks Corner for about four hours because they only run during rush hours in the morning and afternoon. Fortunately I was within walking distance to the main office, and a customer service rep invited me to come wait in their lobby until the buses started running again. After finding a Subway for lunch I took her up on the offer, arriving at the terminal moments before a huge thunderstorm hit. While getting to and from Moncks Corner for a traffic ticket was an all day affair, at least it was doable!

According to the research I've done TriCounty Link has some innovative approaches to service, things like Link to Lunch in Moncks Corner which provides free shuttle service between businesses and restaurants at lunch time. They've also recently added Wi-Fi access to some of the buses. I like the fact they are a Flag Stop service, so you can wave them down anywhere along the route. Bus passes are available to purchase on the buses themselves, so you don't have to make an extra trip when your pass expires. The article talks about their growth being slow and methodical, yet their ridership increased thirty-nine percent between July 2009 and March of this year. It also points out how well TriCounty Link makes the most of limited funding. While there is a huge difference in the size of the companies and the services being provided, maybe CARTA should consult TriCounty Link for ways to improve their services as well as stretching their funds!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Charleston Farmer's Market

At least two Saturdays a month I head out to the Charleston Farmer's Market on Marion Square. It's one of my favorite things to do, I love the downtown area, and the Farmer's Market is filled with great local produce, meat, eggs, milk, specialty items, cooked foods and artwork. It's usually packed with people as well, so the earlier you get their the better. The locally raised chicken from Chucktown Chicken and the  raw milk and farm fresh eggs from the Green Grocer sell out fast. It's easy to get to the market from North Charleston, as bus 10 runs all the way down to Meeting and Mary, and it's just a short walk to the market. The CARTA superstop at Meeting and Mary is a central stop for a number of buses from different areas, which means you don't necessarily have to live downtown to be able to shop at the market. It does take some time and planning, but being able to purchase locally grown food can't be beat! Not only is it healthier for you, you're supporting local farmers and reducing your carbon footprint even more by not purchasing food that's been shipped across the country - or internationally! I recently broke down and spent $20 at Walgreens to buy a small, collapsible shopping cart because using my rolling backpack wasn't working out well. I also have a large insulated bag that I fill with my icepacks. That way my milk, eggs and chicken make the trip home without spoiling in the heat. I would purchase more on each trip if I didn't have to worry about how much weight I'm toting, but it is what it is. Depending on what I need to purchase I spend anywhere from $15-$50 on food that lasts me two weeks or more. (keep in mind I'm feeding just one person).

Friday, July 9, 2010

North Charleston Rail Plan

I won't go into all the details here, but Mayor Keith Summey has announced an agreement between the City of North Charleston, CSX Transportation and Shipyard Creek Assoc. You can see the story here North Charleston Rail Plan. The big thing that caught my eye was the following point in the agreement:

"Potential for a greenway for pedestrian and bicycle connection to Downtown Charleston"

Really?! How awesome would it be to have a greenway running from Park Circle in North Charleston, all the way to downtown Charleston ?!

Of course the whole plan is contingent on finding the funding for the project, so it may all come to naught. We'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Magic Bikes?!

Wow, this is a cool concept I just came across via another blog, light rail blogger. Community bikes available at stations around the city,  bcycle is currently up and running in Denver, Colorado. Check it out!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Back on the Merry-Go-Round...

Here we go with the on-again/off-again schedule for bus 12. While I was assured at the CARTA board meeting that the issues with Roadwise (the road construction company) had been resolved, apparently that isn't the case. Roadwise is keeping at least one lane open, and that worked fine Monday through Thursday of last week. Friday the bus was running late, then I saw it coming up Rivers Avenue instead of down Greenridge from Antler. On the plus side the driver is one of those great ones who actually get to know their passengers, and provide exemplary customer service. She spotted me standing at my usual stop and pulled over in front of Arby's to wait.

Saturday's weather was so incredible I decided to walk to the mall. At Dial America waiting for bus 12 was an extremely unhappy family. Mom, Grandma, Dad (who is disabled) and two toddlers in a stroller. I hated to be the one to tell them the bus might not be coming. They told me they had waited over an hour because the first time they called customer care they were told that the bus was at Kmart, and would be there shortly. On their second call because the bus passed by via Rivers Avenue, they were promised the next bus would be coming from Kmart via Antler then down Greenridge to Dial America. I decided to wait since I wasn't on a time schedule, and called customer service myself. My favorite twelve-year-old answered the phone, and advised me that she had already told a previous caller that bus 12 was coming down Greenridge. And it did, much to my surprise!

Bright and early Tuesday I headed out for the stop across Rivers Avenue in the hopes of catching bus 12 going to Kmart, rather than taking my chances on whether it was coming to Dial America. I was too late but caught bus 106 back to the mall in order to jump on bus 10. I got to work later than usual this way, but still on time. Got to ride with one of my favorite drivers, Mr Paul, who was my first driver on bus 104 in Park Circle, and who sets the bar high for all other drivers. He and Ms. Linda are my two favorite drivers.

In talking to the drivers on all the different buses I've ridden this past week, as well as the passengers, I have found once again that CARTA/Veolia is the mecca of miscommunication. The morning dispatcher and supervisor are advising NO buses are to run on Greenridge Road in either direction. In the afternoon the drivers are being told that there is nothing to advise of this in writing, so they ARE supposed to take Antler to Greenridge and stop at Dial America. Because I sit up front I can hear the driver's and dispatcher's frustration as passengers are calling in, and drivers are reporting passengers waiting expectantly at a stop, or chasing them down on Rivers Avenue.

Again the questions are raised, "Why has no notification been given to the passengers about the stop changes?", "How hard is it to post notices on the buses, or to put up a sign at the stop?" and, "Who, if anybody is representing the passengers in all this?" There seem to be no answers forthcoming, the drivers are just as frustrated and confused as the passengers, and the customer service reps and dispatchers are getting dumped on, as I'm sure are the supervisors. I'm going to start another round of emails to CARTA and Veolia officials to see if anybody has a solution. I pointed out at the CARTA board meeting that the road construction will be going on for months and an alternate stop should be set up to prevent continuing issues. Obviously the suggestion wasn't acted on!

Update on the FRAC meeting...

Well the FRAC meeting was interesting, if a bit disappointing. There were two other interested people, John and his son Jack. John is avidly anti-automobile and anti-oil dependence. His son Jack is a college student who gets around by bicycle. (I was impressed that Jack, unlike many bicyclists in Charleston actually wears a helmet!) John made a point of ribbing Peter Tecklenberg because he drove the three blocks or so from the office to the meeting at the library. John also stated he has been to the mecca of public transportation known as Portland, Oregon and described getting info from google maps on where and when the next bus was coming that would get him to his desired destination.  The primary discussion was around how to make up the $1.4 million shortfall caused by a drop in the sales tax due to the economy. It looks like the options most likely to be enacted will be a cut in services. Route 106 most likely will be on the chopping block due to low ridership, though someone apparently has started a petition and has gotten over 300 signatures. I was really disappointed that there was such a low turnout, but since the meetings aren't really publicized I guess I shouldn't be surprised.