CARTA bus (copy) (copy)

CARTA is building a new park and ride lot off of Rivers Avenue in North Charleston.

Late last year, the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of  Governments completed a regional park-and-ride study that identified 11 new satellite parking sites to expand on the 19 current facilities that serve CARTA and TriCounty Link.

The plan included both publicly owned locations — including an abandoned rest area along Interstate 26 in Berkeley County and a vacant state Department of Transportation parcel in Mount Pleasant — and private property that would necessitate partnerships with owners and up-fitting for new amenities such as bus shelters.

A number of the facilities noted in the plan as 3-to-5-year targets were associated with the ongoing Lowcountry Rapid Transit project, which is progressing through the environmental review process. As that 26-mile line makes its way into more suburban settings, park-and-ride will play a crucial role in attracting riders from outlying areas.

While numerous sites were highlighted as potential options, and conceptual plans drawn for eight of them, COG is in no way shutting the door on further alliances that would help enhance the regional transit network and benefit property and business owners.

In fact, our message to the private sector on that count is clear: We want to work together to solve the region’s transportation challenges. Even a few spaces set aside for carpooling or forthcoming van pool programs would add up to a significant impact when multiplied across the transportation grid.

Early examples of park-and-ride success already exist. On Rivers Avenue, CARTA is putting the finishing touches on a $2.1 million, four-acre lot that is fenced and lighted and features restrooms and bicycle facilities. The investment makes sense as nearby spaces previously used were recently acquired by a new owner and are no longer available. The upgraded facility serves CARTA’s busiest commuter and local routes, and it will eventually become an important stop along Lowcountry Rapid Transit’s middle segment.

In downtown Charleston, the Hospitality-on-Peninsula park-and-ride shuttle set yet another ridership record in June. HOP will eventually move to a large parcel near Mount Pleasant Street and play a key role as a transit hub on the southern portion of Lowcountry Rapid Transit.

As facility investments are being made, CARTA is also pushing its commuter program forward in other ways, having recently replaced its entire 16-bus Express fleet. The new vehicles feature reclining chairs, LED lighting, free Wi-Fi and USB charging ports. The commuter-centric routes service seven park-and-ride hubs — in Summerville, North Charleston (2), Mount Pleasant (2), West Ashley and James Island, with direct connections to downtown Charleston.

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Through a partnership with CARTA, Medical University of South Carolina and College of Charleston employees, students and staff ride for free with ID. It’s a program that could make sense for other employers in the region and we are more than happy to have that conversation.

The Lowcountry Go commuter program, meanwhile, is beginning to make progress and will soon roll out a subsidized van pool option. LowGo is already available for individuals and employers to organize carpools and provides insights on other strategies such as flex time and work-from-home options that could help reduce regional congestion. More information is available at LowCountryGo.com.

It’s clear that the need and appetite for public transit and alternative forms of transportation has never been greater in the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester region. Now the pieces are beginning to fall into place.

Ron Mitchum is executive director of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and CARTA. Mike Seekings is chairman of the CARTA Board of Directors.