Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Not Just CARTA...

Contrary to some of the nonsensical opinions posted on the Post and Courier's website in response to articles on CARTA's budget woes, CARTA is not just another local form of welfare, or a conspiracy to bilk the taxpayers out of millions of dollars by tinting their bus windows to hide the low ridership on some routes. Pierce Transit in Washington State is currently holding their own public hearings regarding fare increases and posible cuts in service. This link shows the options they're considering for fare increases, which are comparable to what CARTA has decided. In fact, according to an article written by Tom Downs of Veolia on citiwire , ninety-percent of all transit systems in the US report flat or declining local financial support. Eighty-four percent report they have reduced services or increased fares within the last year. And yet within the last ten years public transportation has shown it's first consistent increase in ridership in over fifty years. So as the need is increasing, funding is on the decline. This is a nationwide trend, not just a local issue.

I don't claim to understand all the ins and outs of how funding works on local, state, and federal levels to support public transportation. It's both a numbers game and a matter of political football, neither of which I'm good at. There's the Highway Trust Fund which gets it's revenue from taxes on gasoline, and the half-cent sales tax locally as well as myriad other funds. Both sources mentioned are seeing a decline due to the current economy, as consumers cut back on spending. Meanwhile the need for public transportation, including both bus and light rail options is increasing. In some areas the need is due to the number of people cutting back on expenses voluntarily or due to unemployment, and turning to alternate means of transportation. In others it's a movement to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution, while making the commute faster and more efficient.

Another article on citiscope by Christopher Tan touts the success of Singapore's public transportation system. This city has a high-density population, five million people in an area just a bit larger than New York City. Yet the city of Singapore very rarely experiences gridlock. Maybe some lessons can be learned from the planning this city has put into making public transportation work efficiently, as well as the measures they take to discourage overuse of cars in congested areas. Here in Charleston,  the local powers that be need to look at investing our transportation dollars differently. Stop putting money into never-ending widening of roads like I-26 to accommodate more traffic, and put it into improving our local transit system to make commuting via CARTA a more efficient, convenient way to commute to work. The carfree movement and the push for improved public transportation, which includes bus and light rail systems,  is growing across the US. Wouldn't it be nice if South Carolina didn't end up in last place in yet another category when it comes to livability? Let's not allow ignorance and an outdated political system keep us out of the loop!

Design Your Own Bike....

There's a great new bike shop down on King Street.  At Affordabike  you can chose a basic beach cruiser in one of several standard colors, or you can chose custom colors and accessories to make it one-of-a-kind. Griff Ducworth and Daniel Russell-Einhorn order the parts direct from the manufacturers and assemble their bikes on site. No mass-produced, cookie cutter bikes here! They offer well-made, sturdy beach cruisers with a variety of seats, handle bars, chain guards and baskets. Guaranteed when you roll your new bicycle out the door it will be like no other bike in the Charleston area! Check out Affordabike if you're looking for a new bicycle, and shop local.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

CARTA Freezes Admin Pay

Apparently CARTA took note of the outrage over pay raises for the administrative staff  remaining in their budget, while passengers are going to pay higher fares and are still waiting to hear about route cuts.  Today this Post and Courier article is stating that the admin salaries will be frozen for 2011. There are a number of committee meetings coming up to address different budget items, as well as the possibility of cutting bus routes. I highly recommend that anyone who is either dependent on or interested in public transportation here in the Charleston area try to attend any of the meetings that fit in your schedule. Even if they don't allow public comment, these committees and the CARTA board need to know people are paying attention. I find it interesting that all of a sudden there's a rush to review and push through these changes. Or maybe it's normal for this type of organization to wait until the last minute to figure out how to make up for a $1.4 million dollar shortfall? It almost seems as though CARTA was hoping that somehow magically the issue would correct itself without any action on their part. Below is the list of upcoming meetings. I'll post results as they become available.

Upcoming CARTA meetings as stated by the Post and Courier:

 CARTA Human Resource Committee  meets 1:30 p.m. Monday 8/30 at the North Charleston City Hall, Third Floor, Durant Conference Room, 2500 City Hall Lane.

 CARTA Finance Committee meets 4 p.m. Monday 8/30/10 at the North Charleston City Hall, Third Floor, Buist Conference Room, 2500 City Hall Lane.

**CARTA Route Performance Committee**  meeting  4 p.m. Wednesday 9/1/10 at Charleston County Main Library, Conference Room B, 68 Calhoun St. This is the big one, to review recommendations to cut services.

How Would a Bike Change Your LIfe?

Charleston has been chosen to participate in Biketown. Click on the link to enter an essay contest on how a bike would change your life. You might just win a free one! I've already submitted my entry.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What's Wrong with this Picture?!

According to an article in the Post and Courier,   budget decisions made by the CARTA finance committee left administrative raises off of the chopping block. What a slap in the face to those of us who attended the public hearings and voiced our willingness to pay higher fares! Maybe CARTA should be required to hold public hearings on the budget as a whole, and give their riders a say in where the money is being spent? While I understand certain funding and grants are earmarked for particular expenditures such as the new buses, other costs and expenses need to be scrutinized more closely. Kudos to board member Steve Bedard for speaking up on behalf of the riders, who apparently are going to be the only ones to pay the price for CARTA's budget shortfall. While I would vote for a raise and benefits for drivers - the backbone of the system, adminstrators either need to find new funding sources or take a hit as well! Whether it's a lower raise or none at all, or maybe paying more out of their own pocket for benefits, the administrative staff needs to tighten their belts. Perhaps some of the higher-ups need to be weeded out in order to cut costs? It makes me wonder exactly what else CARTA feels is more important than their riders?  After voting to keep the administrative raises intact, the next board meeting will again consider options to cut services as a means to control costs. What's wrong with this picture?!

And the Verdict is....

CARTA decided to go with the fare increases beginning October 1st, but tabled any decisions on service cuts until September's board meeting. Channel 5 News, WCSC

Monday, August 16, 2010

Meetings This Week...

Carta has two meetings planned for this week:

FRAC Meeting

On Tuesday August 17th at 5:30pm at the CARTA administrative offices (36 John St) the CARTA Fixed Route Advisory Committee (FRAC) will be meeting. This meeting is for anyone interested in public transportation to provide input, specifically on the proposed changes being considered by CARTA.
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.

CARTA Board Meeting ***

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) will hold their August 2010 Board meeting at 2:00pm on Wednesday, 08/18/10, in the 3rd Floor Buist Conference Room of the North Charleston City Hall ***  2500 City Hall Lane, North Charleston, SC 29419-9016. The public is invited.

*** Note the change of venue!

Changing Habits and Shopping Local....

Before the car accident that initiated the carfree phase of my life, I was committed to certain things like buying organic or all natural foods and shopping local whenever possible. I frequented the farmer's market in Park Circle, and the Coastal Produce Market in Summerville, looking for locally grown produce. I refused to buy fish not from the U.S. or shrimp that wasn't caught right here in S.C. I made monthly trips to Whole Foods and Earth Fare looking for specific items I loved or wanted to try. And whenever I could I shopped locally owned stores instead of the chains.

Now that I'm living carfree I've had to change some of my habits, or work harder to frequent locally owned businesses. It's not easy going downtown to the farmer's market, and toting all those goodies home in this heat. Likewise going to Publix is a struggle. My "neighborhood" has narrowed to those places I can get to easily by bus, walking, or affordable cab fare. And yet that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it's reminiscent of the olden days when people didn't  jump in their car and drive thirty-minutes to an hour away to go to a specialty store. When you frequent more local stores you're more likely to get to know your actual neighbors, whether they are the customers or the owners and employees.

So as I headed to the nearby Arby's today for a change of scene to work on my blog, I had a running argument with myself.  I don't like fountain drinks, and wanted to grab a bottle of coke to go with the sandwich I planned to buy from the dollar menu, and the little strip mall at the end of Greenridge Road includes the Krishna Stop 'n Go. Yes, you did read that correctly! It is in fact a quite well-stocked Indian grocery as opposed to your typical stop 'n go that just offers soft drinks, beer, milk and cigarettes. I enjoy wandering around looking at all the different food items they offer, however the owner/clerk is not the exactly the friendliest of fellows....

So, do I grab my coke there, or go across the highway to the Little Cricket? My argument with myself included the fact I could grab a can of coke which would be less expensive then a bottle....but I knew I was just making excuses. So I skipped the Little Cricket and familiarized myself with what's offered at the Krishna Stop 'n Go. I had forgotten that they do in fact carry milk, and the butter I had once walked all the way to the Piggly Wiggly for! (1.5 miles in each direction!) An interesting variety of flours, spices,  and whole milk yogurt in small and large containers, something else I buy often. I waited in line behind a young couple who  purchased quite a few groceries and a woman buying her beer and lottery tickets. Mr Grumpy was behind the counter but I greeted him with my best smile, then thanked him and wished him a good day as I left.  

Since I was already at the strip center I walked past the local bar and the empty health food store that moved away in 2008, then noticed that the florist was open. I couldn't help stopping in for a visit. A Bella Bouquet is a pretty little shop that currently specializes in custom orders from a simple floral arrangement to weddings and proms. They do plan on putting in coolers with loose flowers for purchase in the near future. The owners were friendly and showed me around while telling me about the business, with one working on flower arrangements and the other snapping photos as we talked. I'll happily shop there the next time I get the urge to buy myself some flowers!

So while my "neighborhood"  has become more limited in some ways, it has in fact expanded to include local businesses I would have never noticed, or would have driven past going to my usual haunts.  I'm networking in a new way, one that reminds me more of how things were in the neighborhood I grew up in. Other than what I want from the farmer's market,  I can find pretty much every thing I need within a two to three mile radius. Now if I can just get the Piggly Wiggly to carry my favorite greek yogurt I'd be all set!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Commentary on "A CARTA Adventure"

TheDigitelCharleston recently posted a video on "the pains of riding (and learning) the carta system" in which two young college students decide on the spur of the moment to ride the bus from the Citadel Mall back downtown. Now, it would be nice to think that getting from the Citadel Mall to downtown on the bus is fairly simple, or at least that a couple of college students should be able to figure it out. As Jessie and Beau's adventure unfolds however, they run into a few issues.

I do want to point out that while the video does make some good points, CARTA is not totally to blame in this case. For some reason the duo chose to first go to the super stop on Cosgrove and Rivers, which is in the opposite direction of downtown and more than doubled their travel time. I can't fault the CARTA drivers they spoke to for help, as in the video I clearly hear them asking how to get to the super stop - if they had asked for info on getting downtown they could have taken just one bus and made it to their destination in an hour or less.  When the couple finally makes it downtown they try to figure out how to finish the trip via the DASH system, but can't seem to read the schedule. At this point they give up and walk the rest of the way, when they could have just stepped inside the visitor's center to ask for help from one of the nice ladies - whose job it is to help people find their way around Charleston. Oh, and if they actually got on the bus with nothing smaller than a ten dollar bill, that would be why a $3.50 ride for two ended up costing them $10!

One valid point made in the video  is how difficult the schedules and routes can be to read. A coworker recently stated that you need an engineering degree to interpret them on the CARTA website. And I agree, which is why I called CARTA several times to question whether I was reading the schedule correctly when I first started relying on the bus. After almost a year, if I have to go someplace new, I still call to verify what buses I should be taking and get an idea of the time involved. Then I plan extra time  for error. And I always ask my drivers to verify when I get on the bus.  If I'm not familiar with the route I ask them to let me know when my stop is coming up so I don't miss it. Now I'm not unusually organized or OCD, but to me this is just common sense! 

Another valid point is the time and inconvenience involved - depending on where you're going.  I had to give up physical therapy at the Spine Institute after finding that it took four buses and three hours to get to my appointment in Mt Pleasant, and even longer to get home. I did this twice and gave up. You shouldn't have to leave home at 9:30am for a 1:00 pm appointment,  and arrive back home at 7:00 pm.

As for the fact that there is no sidewalk to the bus stop area at the Citadel Mall, we can't exactly blame CARTA for Charleston's lack of planning. Charleston's roads were not designed  for people to walk or ride bikes safely - shame on them!  And I've recently learned that the various municipalities that are served by CARTA have the final say on where CARTA locates it's stops.

When it comes to getting help, I've had my issues with customer service, but ninety-five percent of the drivers I have dealt with are personable and informative. The regular passengers also are extremely friendly and helpful when you're obviously a newbie to the system. If Beau and Jessie found this not to be the case, I believe it may be for the same reason I didn't like the video - to them this was a lark and they made a joke out of it. As a passenger who relies on the bus to get to work, go to medical appointments,  and to do my shopping, it's no laughing matter. There are issues with how CARTA runs the system and lots of room for improvement. Being stranded by a bus that doesn't show up when/where it's supposed to can cost me my job. Having to cross a busy intersection with no pedestrian crosswalk to get to an inconveniently located stop is scary, and can be life-threatening. Having difficulty getting from point A to point B on a poorly planned trip just for fun is another matter altogether!

I've been in touch with the people in charge at CARTA and Veolia and I started writing this blog to address both the benefits and the challenges with our public transportation system here in Charleston, as well as attending the board meetings and public hearings. I'm hoping to have some small influence in making positive changes to the system that will go a bit further than posting a six minute video that mocks the whole process. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Sunset Clouds...

One of the benefits of walking to and from the bus stop is the opportunity to take awesome pics of the lowcountry, and to enjoy scenes I might not notice while sitting in traffic!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Speak Up!

I was encouraged to see a good-sized group of passengers at last night's public hearing, There were also a few non-riders who stood up to speak about the proposed changes. The majority opionion seemed to be in favor of increasing the fares without cutting services. Several passengers who work the late shift took time off from work to speak out against cutting CARTA's night bus. There were also a number of people standing up for bus 106, which is the only bus providing service to the riders in the Otranto/Hanahan/Stall road area. While all of the networks have aired stories about the hearings, I was disappointed that channel 4 was the only news station to actually send a crew to report on them. (maybe since tonight is the last hearing they'll all be there?)

There's still time to voice your opinion if you didn't  make it to one of the public hearings, and couldn't get your hands on a paper survey. Take the online survey here survey, or go to CARTA's website to find the link. You can also email CARTA at or Peter Tecklenburg, transportation planner at Speak up, voice your opinion, let CARTA know how you feel about the proposed changes. Don't just assume it's a done deal, or that your voice doesn't count. If you don't participate in the process, you shouldn't complain about the outcome!

For myself, I would prefer to see a fare increase with no services cut. Yes, some of the routes need to be adjusted, maybe combined or changes made to the stops. But I would hate to see CARTA @ Night, Sunday services, or route 106 completely eliminated as so many people rely on them. I think increasing the cost of a transfer to fifty-cents would be a good option as well. What's your opinion? Speak up by commenting here, taking the survey online, or contacting CARTA at one of the above email addresses. If you're a CARTA passenger or just somebody interested in the future of public tranportation here in Charleston, then please speak up!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Another Sign and a Reminder...

I did finally spot an announcement on bus  #10 Saturday night, along with some surveys. It's about time, since this is the busiest route they have in terms of ridership! As a reminder, the last two public hearings on proposed changes to the fare structure and/or routes are this week:

Monday, 8/09/10 - N. Charleston City Hall, 2nd FLoor Montague Room 2500 City Hall Lane, N. Charleston, SC 5:30pm-7:30pm

Tuesday 8/10/10 - Lonnie Hamilton III Public Service Building Council Chambers, 4045 Bridge View Drive N. Charleston, SC  5:30-7:30 pm

Both meetings are accessible by bus, and I'll be attending tonight's meeting which is conveniently taking place near my job. It will be interesting to see who's there representing CARTA and Veolia, as well as how many people come to voice their opinion. A fellow passenger told me he doesn't see the point, because he feels CARTA has already made up their minds as to what they're going to do, the surveys and meetings are just a show. My feeling is that if you don't fill out a survey, email CARTA, go to the public hearings or board meetings, or do SOMETHING to participate in the process,  then you don't have room to complain about the changes! If I'm going to gripe about what's wrong with the system, then I need to take action to try to fix it. I also make a point to let CARTA know when something is going well, or when someone has provided good customer service.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Lack of Public Transportation a Factor in Obesity Rates?

Check out this great blog post on the  unexpected benefits of public transportation which cites the CDC's list including a LACK of public transportation as a contributing factor in higher obesity rates.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

CARTA Surveys and Public Hearings

CARTA is seeking public feedback on proposed recommendations that were presented at their July Board meeting to make up for a 1.4 million decrease in 1/2 cent sales tax funds from Charleston County. The link for the online survey is available on the website CARTA . (Because I've already done the online survey I get a thank you message whenever I click on the link so I can't post it here.)
CARTA will be holding three public hearings to for input on potential changes in service and fare increases at the following time/date/locations:
*5:30pm-7:30pm-Thursday 8/05/10 - Charleston County Main Public Library, Auditorium 68 Calhoun Street, Charleston, SC
*5:30pm-7:30pm-Monday 8/09/10 - N. Charleston City Hall, 2nd Floor Montague Room 2500 City Hall Lane, N. Charleston, SC
*5:30pm-7:30pm-Tuesday 8/10/10 - Lonnie Hamilton III Public Service Building Council Chambers, 4045 Bridge View Drive N. Charleston, SC
The proposed changes are as follows:
*Fare increase to $1.75 and a 16% fare increase on passes ONLY.
*Fare increase along with eliminating Route 106 and all CARTA @ Night services
*Elimination of CARTA @ Night services only
*Elimination of all Sunday services only
*Elimination of all Sunday service AND fare increase
*Elimination of part of Sunday service AND fare increase.