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CARTA Express – a step into the deep end

Lee Walton

CARTA’s much hyped new park-and-ride Express Bus service will be the first true test of its ability to penetrate Greater Charleston’s commuting workforce market beyond its traditional role as the mode of transportation for those with no other viable transportation options. Over the past half-century, public transit in the Lowcountry has served a relatively small captive market sector dominated by low-income service work-force commuters, or commuters whose economic circumstances, occupation or physical limitations dictated their reliance upon public transit as their sole source of transportation.

Beginning Monday, January 22nd, CARTA will offer an alternative choice to a totally different sector of the Lowcountry commuting public that must be won over by service, performance and consistency. These commuters, who will still leave their homes in their own private automobiles, must be consistently convinced to drive to a park-and-ride lot, often remote from their normal route of travel, and board a bus that will travel on the same congested roadways and lanes being used by all other commuters. Once arriving at the express bus stop, these commuters must then individually make their way to their final destinations or places of employment, presumably by a finite hour still dictated by punctuality and employment demands. At day’s end the cycle would reverse, but the expectations of service and dependability from CARTA’s Express Bus service would not diminish.

Families with only one car and two or more driving adults or workers faced with destination parking shortages or high daily parking fees could possibly benefit from this new service. Nonetheless, even this potential commuter market sector must be convinced that the Express bus service offered by CARTA is better and at least equally as time efficient as their current option – their private automobiles.

In most larger metropolitan areas with park-and-ride lots and express transit buses, one more critical transportation element exists throughout their arterial roadway networks – priority or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) express lanes. These separate and relatively uncongested lanes offer the most essential ingredient necessary for transit systems to compete against the time efficient advantage of the private commuting automobile. Without them, transit buses have no other opportunity to offer a time efficient alternative to the commuter with their automobile. What value is the extra time to lean back, read the quintessential free copy of the Palter & Chatter provided by CARTA and sip a hot latte if you loose a job due to chronic tardiness? Then again, there’s always the option to set the alarm an hour earlier.

Even with the first two weeks free (unless you ask who’s paying that pesky ½ % sales tax) to attract new Express bus commuters, CARTA and it’s world class transit expert and Executive Director, Howard The Bagman Chapman, will now have to start swimming in the deep end of the public transit pool. Time will tell if he and CARTA’s Board of J. Pericles Riley sycophants will sink or swim. Then again, maybe the journalistic ink at the Palter & Chatter is buoyant enough to even float this brick.

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