CARTA will offer a new $3 express route to connect Charleston International Airport and downtown Charleston as part of changes its board approved Wednesday to help the struggling North Area Shuttle, which is free.

Cab drivers who compete for airport business did not welcome news of the new Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority service.

"I'm really angry about it. It's stopping the growth of my company, which will discourage job creation," said James Jones, president of Charleston Cab Co.

The CARTA plan is an example of government intrusion into free enterprise, he said.

The Charleston County Aviation Authority recently approved a 17-percent price hike for taxi passengers at the airport at the request of the Charleston Airport Association of Limo and Taxi Drivers, who wanted the higher rates to match the cost-of-living increase since rates were last set in 2005.

The Aviation Authority, Charleston County and Boeing will share $900,000 in annual costs for the new North Area Shuttle (NASH) route scheduled to begin in late January.

CARTA officials described the new service as an expansion of NASH, which they said has drawn too few passengers since its launch in June.

In November, NASH had about three passengers per hour on its daily 12-mile route. It was envisioned to draw at least 20 riders hourly.

CARTA staff met with the Charleston Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of North Charleston and hoteliers to come up with a more effective service. A public hearing was held on the issue.

NASH currently runs a loop route from the airport that includes North Charleston Coliseum, the Performing Arts Center, Tanger Outlets, Centre Point and nearby hotels. The free NASH route will expand to include East Montague Avenue to Park Circle and Old Charleston, officials said.

The NASH express will be $3 one way and connect the airport, Tanger Outlet Center and the North Charleston Visitor Center on Centre Point Drive to the Charleston Visitor Center on Meeting Street.

The service is intended to provide reliable transportation for hotel guests and retail customers traveling to and from the North Charleston retail/entertainment center to downtown Charleston, officials said.

The NASH Express will operate from 10 a.m. to midnight Monday through Saturday and from noon to 9 p.m. on Sundays. It is described as a limited-stop express route.

Board member James Lewis questioned whether CARTA was opening a "can of worms" with its new NASH service in light of cuts to other routes in recent years.

"Public transportation helps build this economy," Lewis said.

Executive Director Christine Wilkinson said the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester Council of Governments is conducting a CARTA route analysis.