Airport shuttle to be free

FILE PHOTO

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority soon will launch a free shuttle service from the airport, which will serve the Charleston Area Convention Center, nearby hotels and Boeing.

The $900,000 service’s first year will be paid for with $300,000 each from the Charleston County Aviation Authority, Charleston County’s lodging tax, and a third source not yet named. It is expected to begin in late fall.

At Tuesday’s County Council meeting, Councilman Vic Rawl said the third partner was rumored to be Boeing.

Council approved its $300,000 share with a 5-4 vote at that meeting. The money will come from the county’s accommodations tax, a 2 percent tax on hotel rooms and vacation rentals.

Elliott Summey, Teddie Pryor, Henry Darby, Anna Johnson and Rawl voted in favor of funding a portion of the shuttle service. Colleen Condon, Joe Qualey, Herb Sass and Dickie Schweers were opposed.

Summey, who is council’s vice chairman and a member of CARTA’s board, said the service is an appropriate use of such funds because it will promote tourism, and take cars off the road from the congested area. Council members opposed to the move said they didn’t think it was an appropriate tourism expense, and they were concerned about how the free service would affect some local taxi drivers, who make a living largely on fares from the airport.

Rubin Nelson, a taxi driver who serves the airport, addressed County Council during the public comment portion of its meeting. He was concerned about the impact the free shuttle would have his business.

On Thursday, Nelson said Summey “assured us it won’t impact us, but I think it will.”

He thinks the taxi drivers should have been advised in advance of the decision, so they had time to prepare a response. But for now, he’s just hoping Summey is right.

To compromise and silence critics of the shuttle plan, Summey agreed to some caveats including: County funding is contingent on a review by staffers to determine it is a tourism-related expense; the county will not contribute the money if either of the other two partners backs out, riders must pay if they transfer from the free shuttle to another bus; and the shuttle route will not extend beyond International Boulevard.

Qualey said he thinks the service is “a highly inappropriate use of taxpayers’ money.” And, government should not provide a free service that directly competes with small business owners, such as taxi drivers.

Qualey and Schweers also raised the question about whether it was ethical for Pryor and Summey to vote on the matter. Pryor, who is council chairman, works as tourism director for the city of North Charleston. North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey made the funding request.

And Elliott Summey is a member of the CARTA board. He also is Keith Summey’s son.

Pryor said at a Finance Committee meeting that he did not have a conflict of interest because he would not profit personally from the decision. Elliott Summey said he serves as a representative of County Council on the CARTA board, so he has no conflict of interest.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.