The auto-reliant Charleston area has made little use of its abundant waterways to transport people, but population growth and crowded highways have paved the way for a passenger ferry service that's expected to begin in October.
The Daniel Island Ferry is expected to carry up to 49 passengers at a time from a Wando River dock near Children's Park on Daniel Island to the Charleston Peninsula. There will be stops at the Charleston Maritime Center and Joe Riley Waterfront Park.
Unlike Daniel Island Ferry's sister company Charleston Water Taxi, the ferry service will use a fast, enclosed, air-conditioned boat. The company expects to take delivery of the nearly 50-foot boat next month, according to Colby Hollifield, a partner in Daniel Island Ferry.
"You can dress for business and do work on your laptop" on the new boat, Hollifield said. “We’ve gotten dozens of emails from people who are interested."
It won't be the first time Daniel Island residents have been able to commute by boat to the peninsula, but it would be the first regular commercial ferry service the Charleston area has seen in decades. Last year, Charleston Water Taxi temporarily offered a commuter schedule when the James B. Edwards Bridge between Daniel Island and Mount Pleasant was shut down.
Daniel Island residents who work on the peninsula typically get there by taking Interstate 526 through Mount Pleasant to U.S. Highway 17, or I-526 through North Charleston to Interstate 26. If there's light traffic, that could take 25 minutes.
A boat can make the trip at least that fast, and could easily beat a car during rush hour commuting time. The ferry service is expected to offer two morning commuter trips to the peninsula and two return trips in the evening.
Hollifield said he's been talking with the city of Charleston and the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority about coordinating the ferry schedule with CARTA buses.
“When I met with them, they were all fired up and ready to go," said CARTA Chairman Mike Seekings, a Charleston City Council member. Seekings said CARTA is not directly involved with the ferry service venture.
Large employers on the peninsula and the city government have worked with CARTA in the past on mass transit options. The Medical University of South Carolina pays for employees to ride CARTA express buses, for example, and the city subsidizes the DASH buses that are free to ride on the peninsula.
John Runyon, Director of Business Services at MUSC, has been working on MUSC participation in "Boat to Work Day" on Sept. 20. That event, which was also held last year, is aimed at promoting transportation alternatives.
“It’s just amazing to me that we don’t have a robust water taxi and ferry in the city that moves people across this harbor," Runyon said. "Any place I have gone in the world I would see that."
He said part of the challenge is having buses that connect water taxi and ferry docks to final destinations downtown.
Charleston-area commuters can only imagine the transit options that existed until 80 years ago, when passenger trains, trolleys and ferry boats flourished.
The Joe Riley Waterfront Park dock is convenient to East Bay and Broad streets, while the Charleston Maritime Center is close to a DASH bus stop.
Daniel Island Ferry isn't selling tickets yet. Hollifield said round-trip tickets will be $15, but the daily price drops if people agree to buy monthly passes for $250, or for $150 with a one-year commitment.
“We’ve gotten dozens of emails from people who are interested," he said.
Hollifield said that when a commuter ferry was running temporarily last year, most passengers brought their bicycles.
Eventually, the company hopes to expand ferry service to James Island, North Charleston, the Cainhoy peninsula and other locations.
"Sullivan's Island is the next place we'd like to go," Hollifield said.