Proposed CARTA route changes, cuts will save authority $500,000

CARTA officials say minor route changes based on preliminary study results will save $500,000 this year.

A few minor route changes will save the cash-strapped Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority $500,000, officials say.

Colleen Condon, chairwoman of the CARTA board’s Route Advisory Committee, said a Comprehensive Operational Analysis currently underway with the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, won’t be complete until the end of the year. But a few glaring things that could quickly save a lot of money jumped out to the bus system’s leaders early in the process.

That’s important, the Charleston County councilwoman said, because CARTA faces a $1.4 million budget shortfall this year.

CARTA, which is struggling to get by on its current $20 million budget, recently had to turn over to the city of North Charleston a longtime plan to build an intermodal center and ask Charleston County to forgive a $7.6 million loan.

CARTA’s 122-vehicle fleet is one of the oldest in the nation and there’s no money for replacing its buses. Keeping CARTA a viable organization in the future will depend on bringing in more money and operating more efficiently, officials have said.

The committee on Wednesday approved the following cost-saving measures:

Running on a reduced schedule on 10 federal holidays instead of five.

Combining downtown Charleston routes 201 and 213.

Discontinuing route 105, also known as the NASH circulator, which has stops at the Charleston International Airport, North Charleston Visitors Center, Tanger Outlets and the Charleston Visitor Center.

Running route 20 buses on King Street only every 60 minutes on Sundays.

The committee also approved changing the time the last route 10 bus leaves Mary Street in downtown Charleston from midnight to 12:30 a.m. on weekends.

Charleston City Councilman James Lewis said route 10 serves a lot of people who work in the city’s hospitality industry, and the time change will allow many of them to take a bus home instead of having to take a taxi.

City Council in April approved a new fare system for taxis which allows cabs to double their fares between midnight and 5 a.m.

“I’m very disgusted,” Lewis said before the vote. “These poor people can’t get home from work at night.”

CARTA’s full board will vote on the changes at its June 17 meeting.

Condon said the full study should be complete in December. When it’s done, officials will be able to better adjust routes and portions of routes so the system operates more efficiently.

“How wonderful it is going to be that we have a data-driven system,” he said.

William Hamilton, a member of Hungryneck Straphangers, an East Cooper transit advocacy group, said members of his group were afraid the route cuts would be much worse. And he thinks outcries from residents so far have kept those cuts at bay. “The public was heard here,” he said.

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