Saturday, October 13, 2012


I joined the carfree movement by accident, literally. Becoming carfree was not something done out of concern for the environment, as a lofty experiment, as a means to simplify my life, or because I'm anti-automobile. When I unexpectedly found myself carfree for an indefinite amount of time, it became a way of life. Through research I then discovered that carfree living is a lifestyle that many embrace by choice, while even more have no other option.

There are blogs I follow that celebrate the carfree lifestyle, and those that advocate improvements in public transportation as well as walkability and bicycle access for towns and neighborhoods. One of many things I have learned in more than three years of bus-hopping, walking, and bicycling around the Charleston area is how far behind we are when it comes to our public transportation and providing safety for people who walk or ride bikes. Charleston, North Charleston, Moncks Corner, West Ashley, Mount Pleasant - I have traveled all by bus and/or on foot. What I have seen and experienced is a lack of customer service, poor scheduling, and inefficiency.  As the economy worsens and ridership increases, CARTA cuts routes and services while increasing fares

While I now have a car and quite happily commute to work, I am so much more aware of how many people I see out walking along Rivers Avenue, particularly late at night. I noticed that the stop at Dial America has finally gotten a new trashcan. On my way home at ten-thirty one night I see a family with young kids and lots of shopping bags waiting at the stop in front of Northwoods Mall. Poorly lit and nowhere near a building but at least it has a bench and shelter. However, I'm not sure bus 10 runs past the mall that late. 

Cab fares have become prohibitive over the last three years as well, with a fuel surcharge added to the cost, as well as minimum fares that range anywhere from $4-$15 or higher depending on the cab company, the driver (some don't charge the minimum), where you start from and what your destination is. Out of habit I note where bus stops are and what buses travel through the areas I'm in. I know there is always the possibility that I could end up relying on public transportation again, in an emergency, on a temporary basis or long term. Truthfully, at this point if I had to I would rather give up my home and live in my car in order to avoid the long term option.

My mother continually pointed out that "normal" people don't live carfree. In her world that may be true, but in reality there is a huge carfree population. I gave it up and pushed to get back on the road because, quite honestly, I got tired. In the beginning I accepted it as a necessity, and took it as a challenge. I was determined to maintain as much of my "independence" as possible, in that I didn't want to have to rely on friends and family to get to work, go shopping etc. A friend pointed out once that despite my lack of a car, I got around more that most people. But after six months of struggling to either find rides to all my doctor appointments, or spending most of the day bus-hopping for a visit that lasted all of ten minutes, I wasn't feeling so independent. In fact, I was totally dependent on the limitations of the bus scheduling and whether or not they would actually run on time.  

My schedule when I returned to work put me in the car-lite status. Unless I wanted to wait two hours for a bus home I had to either find a ride with a coworker or catch a cab.  And when I became ill with salmonella poisoning at the beginning of the year I was too weak to walk to the bus stop and made numerous trips to Nason Medical Center via cab. 

Eventually I realized that I was no longer thriving as a carfree person, but just struggling to get through each day. I was back in survival mode and not liking it much. The thought of going anywhere other than work drained me. It was just too much effort. And I began feeling like I was imposing too much on friends and coworkers. So it was time for a change. Though I still have to remind myself  I can just jump in the car and run to the store if I need something, or want to go out for lunch, I'm sure it will eventually sink in. 

Meanwhile, I am still pro public transportation and still want to see changes made so that people in my community can walk and bicycle safely on our streets.  Kudos go to William J. Hamilton of East Cooper Straphangers  for the strides he's made in improving bus services on his side of town. There are also strong local organizations like Charleston Moves  working to make sure things like bike lanes are included in road construction and improvements.  I have hope that things will change for the better, but while I'm still living in Charleston, I hope even more strongly that I won't be forced back into a carfree lifestyle!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Car Free No More!

I have been quite remiss in not keeping this blog up to date. Over a year ago I became more of a carlite person instead of car free, and my circumstances have made bus-hopping more of a struggle than an adventure. Last April I returned home from Texas in extreme pain due to a ruptured disc. I seriously considered NOT coming home as planned due to my lack of transportation. How was I supposed to get to the Spine Institute, local pharmacy etc. when I was unable to walk half a mile to the nearest bus stop? Suddenly the idea of being stranded at home with no transportation was rather terrifying. However, I needed to see my own doctors and after several deep breaths, common sense prevailed. Last time I had a back issue it took one epidural injection and some physical therapy, and I was fine for two years. I have friends I can rely on for transportation in an emergency, and CARTA has Tel-A-Ride services I could look into. If I could get the pain and back spasms under control, I could still do this, right?

So I made it home, after a kind young man at Continental Airlines arranged for wheelchair service at both the Houston and Charleston airports. I was very impressed by the kindness and efficiency of the people who assisted me. A plea for help on facebook got me a ride home from the airport along with a stop for dinner with one of my many awesome friends. Arrangements were made for a ride to a nearby walk-in clinic for the next day. And then the fun began! I contacted CARTA to find out whether their Tel-A-Ride service was available for people with a temporary disability. Yes it is, and they could mail me the application, which also needed to be filled out by my doctor. However, it takes approximately three weeks for CARTA to approve or deny my request. I didn't even question how long the appeal process would take if it was denied. The cost round trip would be $6.00 and no guarantees of getting anywhere on time (this I deduced myself based on experience with the night and special route buses that no longer exist).

I waited to fill out the application, believing I would be up and running, or at least bus-hopping within three weeks or less. Unfortunately, I was way off base, and ended up out of work on short term disability for six months. Unable to walk, sit, or stand for long periods, getting to the bus stop and riding the bus was more than a little challenging. I could manage it on my better days. But for the most part I had to rely on friends, family, and acquaintances to shuttle me to my doctors appointments, the pharmacy, physical therapy, and little things like grocery shopping. I am blessed to have a great support network, and there is no way I could have survived those six months without their help. When I did return to work, my schedule was such that I would have to wait two hours to get a bus home at night. Again, awesome coworkers stepped up to help me out for the past year. My company hires some amazing people!

Fast forward to the past few months, and my need for independence has grown along with frustration over late buses and inefficient scheduling. While I am still, and will always be a proponent of public transportation, currently there is a huge gap between the need for and the availability of a good system here in Charleston. And the daily struggle to get from point A to point B via CARTA is so time consuming and exhausting that I don't have anything left to fight for  reforming the system. And to tell the truth, when I did have the energy and ambition to try, all attempts seemed to fall on deaf ears. CARTA and local governments like The City of North Charleston show no interest in working to improve our local public transportation. They respond to home owners and car drivers who complain about the inconvenience of having to wait a few minutes at a bus stop, but ignore the renters and people without transportation who need that bus stop. (And yes, we pay taxes too!)

 I will continue to keep track of what's happening with CARTA and which of my elected officials are pro public transportation. Because even as a bus rider, I always found a way to the voting booth, as do many passengers who rely on the service. Going to public meetings, writing blogs and letters, and signing petitions may not get results. But voting out those elected officials (who are also the board members and decision makers for CARTA) will make a statement that can't be ignored. 

As of a week ago I rejoined the world of car drivers, commuting to work and running my errands in a fraction of the time it took by bus. Like many others who have utilized public transportation out of necessity or as an experiment, I have found car free living in to be an unsustainable lifestyle - here in Charleston. That is, unless you live and work in the downtown Charleston area. There bus stops are plentiful, service is frequent,  shuttles are free, and the almighty tourist dollars take precedence over the needs of local taxpayers. 

I will be keeping the blog active, as I now have more free time on my hands. For those of you who are interested in what good public transportation looks like, check out blogs and websites related to cities like Seattle and Portland. They have the right idea!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Up and Running?

Contrary to the prior post, CARTA has just recently gotten their new website with  google transit option up and running. Now you can plug in the address you're leaving from and going to in order to get the bus route info you need. However,  accuracy again is an issue. While I understand as William J. Hamilton of East Cooper CARTA Riders states that it's a huge project and there are bound to be some glitches, you would think they would update their list of bus stops rather than sending incorrect info to google transit. In fact, in response to one of my comments about them taking longer than announced to get google transit up and running Mr William answered, ‎"Nobody really understands CARTA. Many of our stops are matters of opinion." Bingo! And therein lies one of the biggest obstacles to being a regular commuter via CARTA. While I am encouraged that after more than two years of riding CARTA, they seem to be making some improvements, they still have a long way to go. Check out  the new website.