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Charleston hospitality workers starting to use HOP park-and-ride shuttle downtown

CARTA HOP park-and-ride shuttle

The HOP ("Hospitality on the Peninsula") bus begins another circuit from the Morrison Drive commuter parking lot on Friday, April 20, 2018. Abigail Darlington/Staff

Around mid-morning Friday, the new park-and-ride lot on Charleston's Upper Peninsula was only about a quarter full.

But the people leaving their cars and boarding the shuttles to get to work downtown were sure the service would only keep getting busier.

Heather Walker, who lives in North Charleston and works at the Charleston Crab House on Market Street, took the Hospitality-on-Peninsula shuttle for the second time this week on Friday. She said some of her co-workers had started riding it, too. 

"It's better than driving around for 30 to 40 minutes looking for a meter spot," she said. "I think it’s a good step forward."

The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority launched the HOP shuttle on Sunday from a 175-space parking lot at 999 Morrison Drive. On the first full days of operation from Monday to Thursday, about 408 people took the route to the Historic District where most of the bars, restaurants and hotels are concentrated.

Two dedicated shuttles run every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m., with six stops along Meeting and East Bay streets.

While it's aimed at hospitality workers, anybody can ride it for free. Parking at the Morrison Drive lot costs $5. 

Timed with the launch, the city of Charleston upped its parking meter fees this week from $1 to $2 per hour and extended its hours of enforcement to 10 p.m. The warning-only period for expired meters ends Monday, when citations will cost $14 again.

City Councilman Mike Seekings, the chairman of the CARTA board, said he's encouraged by the ridership so far.

"I think we’ll get it to capacity in 30 days, which is what I was hoping for," he said. "If people ride it, it will last."

Lin Pigg drives from Goose Creek to her job at the Lodge Alley Inn on Cumberland and East Bay streets, where she works as a quality assurance representative. For the past six years, she's primarily parked along the Battery on the southern tip of the peninsula where parking isn't regulated.

Most days, it took her about 30 minutes to walk from her car to the inn, and she often returned to find an angry note on her car from a nearby resident. 

She's been using the shuttle every day since it launched. 

"It’s saving me time and frustration," she said. "I make barely above minimum wage. I can’t spend that kind of money on parking in a garage. But this is doable for me."

She just hopes enough people will ride it to keep it running.

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.