CARTA turns to Google for info

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.

No more fumbling with maps, looking for arrival and departure times or wondering exactly how to take the bus to get where you want to go.

That information and more will be available by laptop, smartphone, iPhone or Droid as part of a $30,000 website redesign for the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority.

The CARTA board saw a demonstration of the Google Transit service during its monthly meeting Wednesday.

"This is light-years ahead of where we are," said Christine Wilkinson, interim executive director.

The new website with Google Transit will be operating in about two weeks, she said.

During the demonstration, Google Transit functioned like a mass transit version of MapQuest, which offers directions and travel times for drivers.

The Google Transit user types in a starting point and a destination and receives detailed, written directions on how to ride CARTA to get from point A to point B, including any walking distances and walking times between bus stops.

Google Transit also provides the user with comparative costs for using the bus vs. driving.

In one scenario, CARTA staff used Google Transit to show how to ride the bus from Charleston International Airport to the round Holiday Inn in West Ashley.

Google Transit estimated that driving the same route would cost about $7, for gas and vehicle wear and tear, more than triple the cost of bus fare. Google Transit also compares drive time to bus time. In that case, taking the bus was significantly longer than driving.

Clemson Area Transit recently added Google Transit to its website to become the first in the state to offer the service. Mass transit in Atlanta and Charlotte also use Google Transit.

Detailed mapping and data collection necessary for the CARTA system to become part of Google Transit was done with help from the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, Wilkinson said.

Google must approve the mapping and data work before Google Transit is added to the new CARTA website, Wilkinson said.

Google Transit will take the fear out of riding the bus for people who have never taken CARTA, officials said. It will probably be the most helpful tool on the new website, said Michelle Emerson, CARTA marketing coordinator.

The commonly asked question for CARTA is, "When is the bus coming?" Google Transit can provide that information, she said.

CARTA will continue to have maps and printed route information for riders who prefer them.

CARTA had 394,000 passengers in August, up 10 percent from the same time last year, Wilkinson said.