Mount Pleasant, SC- All East Cooper CARTA bus routes showed major increases in ridership in the April 2014 reports issued by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority. The new #41 Coleman Blvd Route, which runs from Downtown, through Patriot’s Point and along Coleman Blvd. to the BI-LO on Ben Sawyer Blvd. posted an impressive 1018 additional passengers per month. The #41 achieved a total of 2900 riders, a 54% increase. One small bus runs on this route, at 70 minute intervals six days per week.
Outreach work by community public transit advocacy group Hungryneck Straphangers contributed to the increase. Their efforts have been supported by the national Americans for Transit Organization and drivers from the Amalgamated Transit Union, as well as Town Government, schools, businesses and non profits. According to coordinator William Hamilton, while policy is important, much of this has been detail work at the grass roots level, finding and explaining to individual riders, employers and community leaders how a particular bus route can meet their needs. For the manager of a fast food restaurant, it's how to get the staff they need to keep operating. For a family, it's how to reduced the driving while giving adolescents some independence. For the hotel operator, the goal is to attract bookings by letting potential guests know how easy it is to reach historic Charleston on the bus from Mount Pleasant, while saving over one hundred dollars per night. At the KOA campground, it's understanding that people want to camp near Charleston but can't take their RV into it's tight, historic street grid. Each person, in each location has a different need which has to be understood and efficiently linked to the existing transit services.
While national and regional transit planning is important to the future, making transit work on the suburban fringe requires strong local knowledge of the culture, geography and transit system, applied to one potential rider at a time.
Mount Pleasant’s major Route, the #40 Mount Pleasant which runs on and near Johnnie Dodds Blvd. between the Visitor’s Center in Downtown Charleston and Wando High School saw ridership increase from March 2013 to March 2014 by 1,241 rides. The route posted a monthly total of 13,980 rides, a 9.7% increase. This seven day route operates 3 buses on weekdays at 40 minute intervals.
The #2 Express, which runs from Park and Ride Stops at Oakland Market Shopping Center and Kmart to Downtown and Citadel Mall increased ridership by 5% over the same period, rising 461 rides to a total of 9492.
The Tri County Link Bus which runs along N. 17 from McClellenville to Mount Pleasant also posted a ridership increase.
Total Ridership East of the Cooper has recovered from the losses suffered during the major highway construction effort here, which tore up stops and sidewalks along both routes. Transit ridership east of the Cooper is now at the highest level in over 35 years. In July 2007 the #40 posted a total of 9,704 monthly riders. Overall ridership has nearly tripled since the system resumed operations after an almost complete shutdown in June 2005.
In the past year, the Town of Mount Pleasant improved three bus stops and required developers to construct two more at Towne Centre as part of a future hotel project. Private community efforts installed benches at 3 others. Riders East of the Cooper have become comfortable using Google Transit to plan bus trips and are utilizing Bus Tracker to access real time GPS data on when their bus will arrive at their stop on their Smart phones. Plans to improve transit services to and from the Mount Pleasant Senior Citizens Center are being considered.
Issues confronting further improvement in transit system performance East of the Cooper include improvements to additional bus stops, restoring service to the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, and increasing frequency of service on the #41 route. A central bus stop hub will be needed in the future.
Hungryneck Straphangers, the local public transit advocacy group will participate in National Transit month in May with public transit outreach and their third annual “Spoleto Sans Auto” effort to encourage people to use the bus to access Festival events downtown while parking their cars near CARTA stops along Mount Pleasant’s routes. They will also organize transit oriented input to the upcoming Town Planning process. For more information on Hungryneck Straphangers see www.busec.org or call (843) 870-5299.