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!

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