CARTA protests planned in May
A month of protests is being planned against the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority because of a long-range strategy that includes the possibility of more service cuts, a mass transit advocate said.
William Hamilton said the demonstrations will happen because of dismay with the new CARTA five-year-plan.
CARTA Chairman Elliott Summey said Hamilton’s understanding of the plan is incomplete.
“I’m not sure what he is doing this for. He wasn’t at the meeting the other day when we presented the long-range plan,” Summey said.
The first protest is planned May 1 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Mary Street Transit Center in downtown Charleston.
The CARTA plan proposes cutting bus service by 5 percent and not restoring the CARTA@Night service used by workers on late-night shifts, Hamilton said.
“We understand that CARTA has to adjust service based on economic limits, but this plan fails to include any strategies for retaining the current service level or meeting real needs in the future,” Hamilton said.
The five-year plan emphasizes putting CARTA on sound financial footing.
“Reducing current debt and minimizing the risk of future debt accumulation is the focus of this plan,” according to a copy of document.
Summey said CARTA wants to achieve 5
percent improved efficiency on its routes by eliminating duplication. A study is under way to achieve that end, he said.
“It’s not really less services,” Summey said.
He said CARTA has run on a shoestring for years but the current board is turning that around. He said it is time for CARTA to grow up and be a self-supporting adult and no longer live like a teenager always asking for a handout.
In 2010, CARTA@Night and Route 106 Otranto/Stall were eliminated, service on 20 routes was reduced and fares were raised 16 percent. Despite those changes, Summey said that when he became chairman a year ago, there was much work left to be done for CARTA to be on sound footing.
Fares for CARTA on average pay only 3 percent of the cost of bus service, but nationally, bus services on average collect 30 percent of that cost from riders, he said.
Summey said he supports determining how CARTA best fits into a regional approach for transportation planning. Some 60 percent of people who live in Summerville work in Charleston, he noted.
The Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Government has just launched a $1 million “alternatives analysis” for the Interstate 26 and Rivers Avenue transportation corridor funded by the Federal Transportation Administration. Davis & Floyd has been hired as the study contractor.
In addition, another $1 million study funded by the Federal Highway Administration is looking at land-use, growth-management and transportation issues. It is about 90 percent completed.
Hamilton, of Mount Pleasant, has campaigned for better service east of the Cooper. He said the organization behind the May protests has been dubbed the Hungryneck Straphangers. Summey said there are no plans to cut service in Mount Pleasant.
Hamilton said there was a lack of public input on the five-year plan, which calls for reducing expenses and increasing revenues. It calls for paying down CARTA’s $3 million line of credit, maximizing cost-effectiveness of services and preparing to replace much of the fleet for $40 million. Although 90 percent of vehicle costs are eligible for federal and state funding, $4 million in local matching funds still is needed.
The five-year plan also calls for an operations reserve fund so CARTA can respond to unforeseen circumstances with minimal impact on existing service. It advocates completion of the North Charleston Intermodal Center, which is a new bus, train and taxi station on west Montague Avenue.
As part of the CARTA protests, Hamilton said a petition will be circulated that will be presented to the CARTA board at the end of May. Hamilton, an attorney, lives in Mount Pleasant. He has started a Facebook page in support of the protests.