Dorchester group tries to sustain St. George-Summerville bus route
The drive along U.S. Highway 78 from Summerville to St. George is lined with live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, creeks and vast plots of farmland.
But despite the scenery, the drive is not so pleasant. The highway is bumpy and full of potholes, and the 30-mile drive can hinder those lacking gas money. And if you’re from St. George and don’t have transportation at all, you’re limited to the few jobs a rural town can offer.
Increasingly, ridership is rising in rural areas all over the tri-county area as more people look for a way to cut costs and get to better jobs.
“We got a lot of requests from citizens in St. George to offer transportation,” said Larry Hargett, chairman of Dorchester County Council.
On April 2, TriCounty Link started a six-month pilot program with $50,000 from Dorchester County and the Upper Dorchester County Legislative Delegation.
The Dorchester Connector makes 10 stops between St. George and Summerville. It runs 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday. Riding the shuttle costs $2.25 one way.
Charles Gelina lives in Ladson, but works at the Dorchester County Service Center in St. George. He said he started using the route because it saves him money on gas. He said he would normally spend about $240 a month on gas to get to and from work. A one-month shuttle pass is only $70.
Gelina said he parks his car at the Dorchester County Human Services building in Summerville at 7 a.m. and takes the shuttle back at 5 p.m.
“The shuttle takes cars off the road. When there’s less traffic on the roads, the less you can tear it up,” Gelina said about Highway 78.
Leigh Rutledge of Holly Hill also works at the county office in St. George. She agreed that preventing additional wear and tear on her car is a plus to riding the shuttle.
“My car is finally paid off, and I want it to last a long time,” she said with a laugh.
According to TriCounty Link, 328 people rode the shuttle the first week. That increased to 433 the next week. About 7,946 people have used the route from April to August.
Benzenia Saxon has been driving the Dorchester Connector route since it started. She said the busiest times are 6 and 7 a.m. and 3, 4 and 5 p.m.
“We all get along,” she said about the passengers who ride the route.
Brian Worboys, the operations manager for TriCounty Link, said that Dorchester County has to initially fund the route because the “state and federal funding pool has not increased.”
Hargett said it will cost $100,000 to operate the route next year. County Council was able to approve $50,000 for next year, but still needs $50,000 more. That’s why they enlisted the help of Leadership Dorchester.
Leadership Dorchester is an 11-month program through the Greater Summerville and Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce that exposes county residents to community issues and develops their leadership skills.
The group’s goal is to match the county’s $50,000 by finding local businesses to sponsor the route.
They also want to create awareness of the route to increase ridership and build shelters at three bus stops.
Pam Bass, the Leadership Dorchester project leader, said they started class in January, but didn’t choose the project until May. She said Dorchester County Council presented them with the idea, and the group chose it after careful deliberation.
“We knew this wouldn’t just help Summerville but the whole county. This could affect everybody,” Bass said.
The group’s mission is to improve the quality of life for Dorchester County residents and boost business by sustaining the route. Bass said employers in the county sometimes have a hard time finding employees because they lack transportation.
The group is focusing on targeting businesses in Dorchester County along Highway 78. Bass said current and future employees of businesses along the route are the people who would most benefit from it.
Bass said one concern the class had was whether the route could be sustained after this year. She said TriCounty Link assured them that it could be with increased ridership and a continuing relationship with local businesses.
TriCounty Link has five other commuter routes and nine fixed routes that connect rural communities to bigger cites.
Worboys said the difference between a commuter route and a fixed route is that commuter routes are “express” routes and make fewer stops than regular routes.
“Rural routes are just as important as city routes because rural areas don’t have modern conveniences. The rural routes give us a modern convenience,” Rutledge said.
Worboys said other popular routes go from Moncks Corner to North Charleston and McClellanville to Mount Pleasant with stops in Awendaw.
Another route goes from Edisto Island to Citadel Mall in West Ashley with stops in Adams Run and Hollywood.
For more information about TriCounty Link, go to ridetricountylink.com. To get involved with the Leadership Dorchester project, contact Bass at 259-4926 or email@example.com.
Reach Jade McDuffie at 937-5560 or firstname.lastname@example.org.