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!

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