CARTA bus service to East Cooper beaches ends Sunday, but it may return for the summer.
For months, the route to Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island has struggled to draw riders.
“I was very sorry to see the beach service end. They’re going to try again this summer but the community has got to buy into it,” said William Hamilton, spokesman for an area mass transit advocacy group known as the Hungryneck Straphangers.
A lot of elderly island residents who need or will soon need transit could be affected by the end of island service, he said.
“The reality of it is you can’t afford to have a service if people don’t use it,” said Sullivan’s Island Mayor Carl Smith, who serves on the CARTA board.
The demise of beach service is part of changes to East Cooper routes approved Wednesday by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority board.
Route 401, known as the East Cooper Connector, is also ending Sunday. At same time, CARTA begins a new East Cooper Route 41 serving Waterfront Park, Patriots Point and Coleman Boulevard to Rifle Range Road.
The beach service and the East Cooper Connector had anemic revenues that covered less than 4 percent of operating costs. The financially healthiest route, the No. 10 on Rivers Avenue, draws enough riders to cover nearly half of its costs.
The beach service had been under the gun for a long time. Two years ago, the CARTA board voted down an effort to end service to IOP and Sullivan’s despite concerns that the route was a $40,000 drain on the budget.
Route 401 covered a sprawling area that ranged from Town Hall to East Cooper Regional Medical Center and included off-the-beaten-path stops such as Snowden Community Center. Hamilton said Route 401 was hampered because of delays caused by the widening of Johnnie Dodds Boulevard from four lanes to six lanes.
“Construction forced detours that made the route run too long,” he said.
The East Cooper Connector could have drawn more riders with stops at Boone Hall Plantation and Palmetto Islands County Park, he said.
As part of the changes, another bus will be added to Route 40 on Johnnie Dodds Boulevard to decrease wait times.
“CARTA regularly monitors each route in the system to ensure that they are the most efficient routes and offering service in the areas with the most need and use,” said board Chairman Elliott Summey.
Extensive studies were done to ensure the changes were in the best interest of riders and system efficiency, he said.
“CARTA understands the sensitivity of these changes and is communicating with riders to ensure they are aware of all transit options,” Summey said.