CARTAs good move on wrong route
The mission of CARTA is to provide efficient, affordable transit services to the Charleston area. If it can provide efficient, affordable transit services that are kind to the environment, even better.
So CARTA’s board made a good move in agreeing to lease two fuel-efficient hybrid buses as a trial.
Unfortunately, the board decided to do the trial runs in the wrong place.
Instead of putting the buses through their paces on routes that local people use regularly to get to work and back home, CARTA will spend $20,000 a month to give people free rides on hybrid buses from the airport to the North Charleston Convention Center, hotels, Tanger Outlets and Boeing.
CARTA’s plan is to evaluate the hybrid vehicles based on fuel savings, maintenance costs and rider satisfaction. Wouldn’t it make sense to ask the riders who actually use CARTA buses regularly — and pay for their trips? Many of the people who take advantage of the free airport shuttle will be visitors who might never ride another CARTA bus.
Further, cab drivers whose businesses are likely to be hurt by the free shuttle stand to lose even more if their competition is not just free but shiny, new, quiet and nearly emission-free.
If CARTA’s board, at its meeting Wednesday, had discussed publicly the buses and how they would be used, members might have picked up helpful insights from their customers or other transit advocates.
Instead, they discussed the contract in executive session, reconvened and voted without elaboration.
That is not to take away from CARTA’s move toward a greener operation. A public agency should be held to high standards in regard to its public impact, and reducing emissions will be a positive move for its passengers, its employees and the public at large.
While green buses are significantly more expensive than the all-diesel buses now used by CARTA, they use less gas, and federal and state dollars help pay the bulk of the cost of purchasing them. They reduce emissions by 90 percent — a benefit that can’t be measured in dollars and cents.
It is also commendable that CARTA is learning about other green alternatives, including buses powered by natural gas and others that are all-electric.
As CARTA makes a long-range plan to replace most of its nearly 100-strong fleet of aging buses, fuel costs and environmental impact should be key considerations. Electric buses are manufactured by Proterra in Greenville. Keeping business in-state would also be worth evaluating.
Green is good for CARTA. But CARTA should rethink where it will try out new hybrid buses if it is to get the most relevant feedback and show respect for the local passengers and taxpayers who will help pay for them.