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Panel examines lagging CARTA bus routes

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Although several CARTA bus routes aren't operating at full capacity, a panel learned Wednesday that it's not practical to simply throw out the bad ones, especially when people who most depend on the bus system could be affected.

"These are hard decisions. These are real people," CARTA board member and Charleston County Councilman Dickie Schweers said during the three-hour workshop in which transportation authority board members met with representatives from area hospitals, colleges, city planners and other constituents.

The group didn't support eliminating any routes but hashed out ways that might increase efficiency across the bus system.

While an annual analysis done by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority shows ridership trends have been steadily improving, the report also shows at least 10 routes are lagging, many of which are feeder routes that support routes with higher ridership.

"These routes may not have a lot of people on them, but for the people that they do serve, it's very important," said Peter Tecklenburg, transportation planner for CARTA. "It gets them to work. It gets them to school."

The transportation authority staff and the constituent representatives at the workshop agreed some of the underperforming routes should just be tweaked for now.

For example, the Route 21 Rutledge/Grove bus provides a link from peninsular neighborhoods to shopping and medical facilities in downtown Charleston. Staff suggested the bus could start one hour later each weekday morning at 7:12 a.m. and save about $17,063 annually, though some bus drivers say that would be a bad move. CARTA could save three times as much if it also ended service two hours earlier, at 7:07 p.m.

The Route 212 Market/ Waterfront Shuttle DASH trolley could be combined with the 210 College of Charleston/Aquarium route to increase efficiency, but any change would need clearance from the College of Charleston because it uses Route 210 as a parking shuttle.

Jan Brewton, director of business and auxiliary services for the college, said "people would be screaming" if that shuttle fell behind schedule.

The transportation authority staff recommended a review in six months of all other lagging routes, including Route 31 Folly Road, Route 101 Spruill Avenue, Route 102 North Neck, Route 103 Leeds Avenue, Route 106 Otranto/Stall, Route 202 South Beltline, Route 302 Orange Grove and Route 303 Ashley River Road.

The 10 Rivers Avenue, 11 Dorchester Air Force Base and both Express bus routes also need to be monitored to see if overcrowding or traffic congestion are problems.

CARTA's board, which has the ultimate say, will review the recommendations from the workshop when it meets Sept. 19.

Board member Kruger Smith, a Mount Pleasant councilman, said it is important that the bus system is reliable and provides adequate service for the community.

No changes would be made until January, Executive Director Howard Chapman said.

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