Passes, Google Transit, Bus Tracker & Twitter.
Technology has transformed transit in the past ten years. Even though our buses are old, Charleston now enables smart, connected travel which can reduce the time you spend waiting. By using an electronic pass, planning your trips online, using bus tracker to get ETAs for your stop and checking twitter, you will spend less time riding, find new trip options and be able to keep your waits down to about 5 minutes, right now in Charleston.
Get a Pass
CARTA sells plastic bus passes with a magnetic strip which allow you to pay for your trips without worrying about transfers or fumbling for change. You can purchase them online or at the Visitor’s Centers in Mount Pleasant (at Memorial Waterfront Park); Downtown and at the CARTA Office on the South end of the Visitor’s Center. You can purchase a one day pass on any bus, but the big money savers are the 31 day regular or Gold pass (which also covers express services.) If you ride more than ten times a week, the $50 month pass begins to save you money half way through the month. If you are on a bus with a slide slot, use that for your pass instead of dipping it in the reader, as you would a regular transfer. Make sure you keep your pass in the plastic sleeve CARTA provide when not in use. Using a pass saves you money and speeds up operations for everyone.
Plan Your Trip Using Google Transit
Paper schedules are obsolete thanks to Google Transit (which can also be accessed through the CARTA website and evidently feeds local transit trip data to Bing Maps as well). Go to Google maps. Enter your desired destination and start point and Google provides the next available transit trip connecting those two locations. You can select for car, transit, bicycle or walking using the icons.
On a desktop you can print out, email or share your trip. It’s great for businesses who need to assist a stranded customer, patient or client who needs to get home but isn’t familiar with the transit system. Google will generate a detailed itinerary, with maps, times and stop locations is generated. Just click print and hand them a copy.
A more options link (Video Tutorial) will provide you with an entire set of possible transit trips between your origin and destination, organized as a set of project lines so you can select the one your prefer. This view allows you to set an arrival time or start time at any time in the future, so you can plan a trip days in advance.
Google Transit Mobile is even more powerful on your smart phone or internet connected tablet. GPS tells Google where you are (even if you don’t know). All you need to do is find and select your destination and options for getting there will be presented. Select the Bus Icon and Google will figure our the trip.
Googles approach to travel has its quirks. It has a strong bias towards shorter trips and may direct you to a stop closer to your destination to board, when a closer stop further back on the line is closer to where you are. If you are at Meeting and Queen Street, it will always direct you North to the DASH stop on Market when the DASH stop in front of the Post Office on Broad Street is Closer. Since you are taking the same bus either way, the choice is a longer walk to a shorter trip on the bus after a wait or walking South to a longer bus ride that gets you to your final destination at the exact same time. Google does not comprehend the scenic route or that on a rainy day a longer ride can be better than a longer wait. There are also possible connections between routes Google doesn’t know exist because the bus drivers often hold buses at major Hubs like Superstop a few minutes to allow those connections rather than leaving exactly when the schedule suggests.
However, Google can also optimize trips you’ve taken for years. I spent ten years traveling from Downtown to the Longshoreman’s Hall by transferring from the #20 to the #11 after a 15 mintue layover at Mary Street. Google showed me that I could take the #20 all the way to Joseph Floyd Manor and walk back two blocks, shortening the trip by 20 minutes. An unsuspected West Ashley transfer point cut my trip to a relative’s home West of the Ashley by 40 minutes since I no longer went all the way to Citadel Mall to catch a later run of the Northbridge.
Google Transit works in over 200 cities worldwide. It’s good here in Charleston, but in a city where you don’t know the transit system or geography it can help you move around with confidence. In some places Google Transit updates in real time based on GPS data transmitted from the vehicles and in Atlanta, our phone will tell you when to get off the bus so you don’t miss your stop.
Unfortunately Google Transit doesn’t include the Tri County Link Routes servicing rural Charleston, Berkley and Dorchester Counties so you can’t use that to plan your trips in from or out to the countryside, even though many Tri County Link Routes connect with CARTA.
Bus Tracker is a local internet system which functions like an app, but is a simple web page. Using GPS position information transmitted from CARTA’s vehicles, combined with Google traffic data transmitted from thousands of other android devices, Bus Tracker predicts the ETA of your bus. After going to the Bus Tracker web page, you need to select parameters from four pull down menus to obtain your ETA. The system you select is CARTA. You select your route and your direction of travel. Finally you select your stop. After a brief wait, The system will return the ETA for the next three buses running on that route due to arrive at your stop.
Bus tracker cannot give your results for two different routes at the same time, so unlike Google Transit it can’t help you evaluate competing options unless you switch back and forth between those routes. However if you have a strong grasp of the routes and connections, it’s possible to analyze your options and make sure, for instance, that you can make a planned connection when the bus you are on appears to be running late.
The most common use for bus tracker is to limit wait time at stops. You should plan to be at your stop 5 minutes before the indicated arrival time. However on a rainy day, you can have a coffee at the Charleston Tea Company, next to the Mary Street transit center and watch for your buses arrival on bus tracker, allowing for a minute to reach the stop, which shortens the time you wait in the cold or rain. I open up bus tracker at breakfast knowing I’ll need 12 minutes to walk to my stop and need to leave my home 17 minutes before the bus is due.
Bus tracker relies on GPS pings transmitted from the vehicle ever 30 seconds over the cellular network. It’s more reliable in open areas than the city, where GPS data is less accurate due to satellite interference and network loading and interference can disrupt cellular transmissions. If the system loses connection with the bus for too long, it will default to the scheduled times. You can tap on the icon for the bus on the map to see the last time the Bus has successfully transmitted it’s location to the system. If the last ping is more than 3 minutes old, rely on the scheduled time of arrival indicated on Google Transit or the printed schedule.
Like all predictions, Bus Tracker’s ETA’s can be inaccurate. If a bus stops moving or moves very slowly for a long time, the system will predict future slow movement and a later arrival. As the bus speeds up, there is a lag as the system corrects it’s prediction. If the ETA is a long way off the schedule, check to make sure the bus is pinging and how fast it’s moving. Things can change in a matter of minutes after the bus has gotten past an accident. For instance, in the morning the traffic snarl around Wando High School will slow the 40 considerably but after the bus moves away from the school, the ETA’s will jump forward.
Since many fellow transit riders don’t have smart phones, helping other riders find out what the ETA for their bus us is a very kind gesture when you are waiting at the stop.
Twitter for Lowcountry Transit
You can check the hashtag #chstrfc (Chaleston Traffic) and #chstransit (Charleston Transit, which CARTA uses and monitors) on twitter for information about wrecks, traffic congestion or updates from CARTA dispatch on problems with congestion or breakdowns. Hungryneck Straphangers tweets about individual bus lines with hashtags consiting of CARTA and the route number. Embed these hashtags in your transit related tweets and we can all share current information. These hashtags are
- 2 Express- Mount Pleasant to West Ashely #CARTA02
- 40 Mount Pleasant- #CARTA40
- 41 Mount Pleasant #CARTA41
Just because we love transit doesn’t mean we want to spend more time waiting for or riding buses. These four tools have reduced my time consumed by transit travel by about 25%. It really reduces frustration. In a city like Portland, OR or Paris, France (where Google updates in real time so something like bus tracker isn’t really necessary) you can move around the city far faster than anyone in a car can hope to do. It will compare combinations of subway and bus trips most people could never accomplish with paper schedules. After a while your find yourself making fast short transit trips in ways you never did before because the waiting, wondering and confusion have been innovated out of your trip.