ST. GEORGE — So far, this place isn’t a commercial hot spot. Vacant storefronts haunt the historic downtown.

So, with mall shopping and a multi-screen cinema just down the road in Summerville, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise how many riders turned out for the first two weeks of bus service between the two towns.

The turnout “exceeded expectations” for TriCounty Link officials, who will add a Summerville-North Charleston shopping and medical care shuttle to the route starting at the end of the month.

Dorchester County Councilman Willie Davis, who represents part of the rural upper county, was delighted to find two women he recognized from St. George as he left a meeting in Summerville.

“They were so proud they could come to Summerville and go shopping,” he said. “I think it’s going to open up a lot of avenues for a lot of people.”

Starting April 30, the shuttle will run from the park-and-ride stop on the Berlin Myers Parkway at Gahagan Road in Summerville to North Main Market and Azalea Square shopping centers on North Main Street, and then to Trident Medical Center in North Charleston.

The service will be free through June 30 and remain free to riders who pay the $2.25 fee to ride from St. George.

Trips back and forth among 10 stops between St. George and Summerville route carried a total 328 passenger-rides the first week in early April, then 433 rides the second week, said Barbara Flynn, outreach coordinator. Passengers riding both ways were counted in each direction.

The popularity has been a welcome turn of events from the last time bus service was tried and failed to draw enough riders in the rural upper county, about a decade ago.

The early success did surprise some people, Flynn said, but the timing was right.

Davis agreed. Last time, bus service was new to upper county residents, who mistrusted it.

Since then, the Azalea Square shopping center has opened and become a regional draw.

“They’re not afraid of the bus the way they were,” Davis said.

Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.