CARTA proposals worry riders

metro -- A Carta bus turns on to King Street traveling north Friday March 19, 2004. (GRACE BEAHM/STAFF) Published Caption 6/4/05: CARTA drivers are deciding whether to go on strike for higher salaries. Published Date 1/6/2009: CARTA had a healthy increase in ridership in 2008, demonstrating the bus system is growing and improving.

GRACE BEAHM

The possibility of a 25-cent hike in basic bus fare or the elimination of Sunday service was about as popular Friday as the stifling Charleston heat.

Bus riders on Columbus Street worried about getting to jobs, stores or the doctor.

"That would affect me bad because I ride the bus to work," said Sherran Hartwell, who waited for the bus under the shade of a tree. She is a North Area resident whose home nursing work schedule includes Sundays.

Charleston resident Richard Green sat on a bus stop shelter bench. He relies on the bus to buy groceries and go to the hospital. "It would hurt me," he said.

North Charleston resident Chris Smith said he rides the bus to his Charleston job. "Going up on the fare, that's just ridiculous," he said.

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority is considering a fare hike and ending some of its services to help make ends meet. CARTA has $1.4 million less than in year's past because of a slowdown in Charleston County half-cent sales tax revenue, said Howard Chapman, CARTA executive director.

"We're still getting half-cent sales tax money, just not as much. It's just $1.4 million less because people aren't buying. Because of the economy, the sales have been down," he said.

The agency's total budget is $20 million. A shortfall first happened last year and CARTA responded with belt-tightening measures. This year, another round of cost-cutting is not an option for CARTA's budget woes, he said.

"We just have to make up that difference some way," he said.

CARTA is considering possibilities such as a fare increase to $1.75, a 16 percent increase in the cost of bus passes, eliminating Route 106 in the North Area, putting an end to CARTA at night service and ending Sunday service. The Express fare would increase from $2.50 to $3, and transfers would go up by a nickel to 30 cents.

Route 106 includes stops at Northwoods Mall, Super Kmart and Trident One Stop Career Center.

Public hearings on the possible changes to the bus system will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Monday at North Charleston City Hall and Tuesday at the Lonnie Hamilton III Public Service Building at 4045 Bridge View Drive in North Charleston.

CARTA is seeking public input through a survey available online and on its buses. To fill out the survey online, go to www.surveymonkey.com/s/8Z9MNJC or e-mail CARTA at askcarta@ridecarta.com. carta

The proposed bus fare hike is much less than the minimum $7 cost of a cab ride, Chapman said. The changes will be considered at the CARTA board meeting on Aug. 18. If approved, they would go into effect Oct. 1.

Kiara Hartwell, daughter of Sherran Hartwell, said she rides the bus to Trident Technical College's Palmer Campus and to the Dollar General store. She was not upset at the prospect of bus fare rising from $1.50 to $1.75. "I don't think it is a problem that much," she said.

North Area resident Mike Smalls said he remembered when the bus was 25 cents. He rides the bus when he has the money and can't afford the rate hike. "I'll ride a bicycle," he said.