MOUNT PLEASANT -- The unpopular 401 flex route was eliminated and three new routes were approved for the East Cooper area in a unanimous vote Wednesday by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority.
The changes, which will happen as soon as early April, will result in an overall savings of $33,000 in net annual cost, CARTA said.
They include a new "neighborhood shuttle" that will travel to Town Hall, Memorial Waterfront Park, the Senior Center, East Cooper Regional Medical Center, Towne Centre, Seaside Farms, Six-Mile and Snowden.
Route 40 that runs from downtown Charleston on U.S. Highway 17 to Walmart will be modified to include stops at Town Hall, Roper St. Francis Hospital and Wando High School.
In addition, a small flex route will offer transportation from the town to Isle of Palms and Sullivan's Island. It will operate from April to October.
Unlike typical fixed routes, which travel to established destinations daily, a flex route bus picks up customers at home and takes them where they choose within an established geographic zone. The 401 flex route served a huge area east of the Cooper.
The area also has a Route 2 East/West Express from Citadel Mall to Walmart.
Since mid-December, CARTA has debated the future of East Cooper bus service after the Finance Committee voted 2-1 to eliminate the 401 flex route because of low demand.
Board members Linda Page and Thomasena Stokes- Marshall, also Town Council members, asked for more time to study the issue and to receive public input. At a hearing, some customers said they stopped using the service because it was unreliable.
At Wednesday's meeting, there was disagreement about whether the new East Cooper routes should be offered on a six-month trial basis.
"I think we should go forward on a permanent basis," said Elliott Summey, a CARTA board member and Charleston County councilman.
Board Chairman Patterson Smith noted that the new routes are subject to review based on how much people use them.
Tumiko Rucker, Kiawah town administrator who was representing the mayor on the CARTA board, said the six-month trial run for the new routes is CARTA board policy. "The trial basis approach is the best. I think we need to be cautious," she said.
Rucker noted there was public outrage over widespread recent route cuts. "This is public transportation for everyone," she said.
CARTA was operating the 401 flex route at a net annual cost of $284,000. Eliminating it and replacing it with the three new routes can be done at a net annual cost of $251,000, it said.
CARTA recently approved sweeping changes to the bus system to make up for a $1.3 million budget deficit. CARTA@Night and Route 106 Otranto/Stall were axed and service was reduced on 20 routes. CARTA raised fares by 16 percent Oct. 1.
The route changes went into effect in mid-October. The budget shortfall happened because CARTA's revenue from its 18 percent share of Charleston County half-cent sales tax revenue fell dramatically in the economic recession.