Phix the Phone, Reboot the Beach & Beacon Up

May 18- Recommendations for Immediate Action

Members of East Cooper CARTA Riders will attend today’s (May 18, 2011) CARTA Board meeting at 2 pm.  All the materials discussed at our Monday meeting have been send to seven members of the CARTA board with a summary of our recommendations for immediate action on the part of CARTA administration needed to conduct a fair trial of the new routes.

Image of a bus stop (with no sign) on Hungryneck (North Side) just West of the IOP Connector, between BI-LO and Irongate Plaza.  despite its modest appearance and lack of a sign, this is the only bus stop in the East Cooper Area served by all three of our regular routes.Image, Left, Bus stop (with no sign) on Hungryneck (North Side) just West of the IOP Connector, between BI-LO and Irongate Plaza.  despite its modest appearance and lack of a sign, this is the only bus stop in the East Cooper Area served by all three of our regular routes.

Survey rides of the entire East Cooper Route system have been conducted in the past week.  Overall, operations on the ground are now running on route and schedule.  The problems which need to be addressed are all ultimately tied to an inadequate communications apparatus which has at its core an utterly dysfunctional telephone operation.

Today’s Moultrie News (Circulation 27 thousand) includes a Porches to Sidewalks Column by East Cooper CARTA Riders Coordinator William Hamilton detailing the three immediate steps recommended by the members present at Monday’s meeting to advance the East Cooper transit effort.  That text follows:

Porches to Sidewalks Column in the Moultrie News,

May 18, 2011- Page 3

Thirty days after the launch of our new bus route system East of the Cooper, it is time for CARTA to meet its obligations so that a fair trial of the new routes before the September 30th deadline to meet ridership and revenue goals can be conducted.

East Cooper CARTA Riders (ECCR) has been organized to help coordinate and enhance the transit development effort, partnering with schools, government, business, the faith community, and non profits. ECCR has worked with volunteers and other organizations to visit over 2000 homes and businesses since April 19, including all of Belle Hall Shopping Center, Town Centre, and large parts of the Coleman Blvd. area. A new website has been deployed (www.eastccrider.com) which contains detailed information on the new routes far superior to that found on the official CARTA website. A major effort to develop and distribute better maps and information to potential riders than those provided by CARTA has begun.

This Saturday, ECCR will partner with East Cooper Community Outreach to deliver transit information to everyone in the Snowden and Six Mile communities. Additional volunteers are needed.

An effort to bring an Express Bus which connects Daniel Island to Mount Pleasant and North Charleston has begun.

There are three things CARTA and it’s paid staff must do in the next two weeks to keep their half of the bargain to give these routes a fair chance at working. There are also major, long term issues which take more time and money, but they won’t matter until after September 30th.

Phix the Phones

An image of a lady holding a baby. Riders naturally have a lot of questions about our new routes and how they can travel using them. Their first impulse is to call the CARTA phone number printed in multiple locations on the thousands of bus schedules handed out since April 17.

If you want to know how to make the transfer between the #401 East Cooper Connector and the Express Bus at Kmart as Brenda who uses a wheelchair did last week, you might call. The person answering the phone didn’t know.

Our new bus to the beach makes a handful of daily scheduled runs between Carvel Ice Cream at Mount Pleasant Town Centre and the Isle of Palms front beach business district. Otherwise you are supposed to call for a reservation. Two weeks ago, one rider spent 30 minutes on hold.

It would be better for all concerned if someone went up to North Charleston and tore the wire connecting that telephone out of the wall and just let people guess.

Making the phone work must begin by reducing the need to use it. ECCR has contributed to this effort by providing a website which answers the most common questions; new information is added several times a week. There is an entire page devoted to the bus stops on Houston Northcutt and the buses which stop there, verified and checked by people who ride the buses. ECCR sends out survey riders several times a week to check the routes. A detailed map showing the location of every stop on the new #401 East Cooper Connector Route is online. That map isn’t on the CARTA website. There probably isn’t a copy at the CARTA call center. If you don’t like the internet, you can just pick up a copy at Fed Ex at Town Center or Accuprint on Coleman Blvd.

I can’t micromanage CARTA with a newspaper column, but I’ll provide fair notice that ECCR and members of the CARTA board are calling that phone number and keeping track of what is wrong. It will be fixed by somebody soon. I’m sure the people responsible would prefer that they be the ones fixing it.

Reboot the Beach Bus

The #402 Island Flex bus provides CARTA’s only access to the beach in the entire Charleston area. It doesn’t have enough passengers. Its primary reliance on the above mentioned telephone reservation line contributes to it’s low ridership figures. This bus should be a roaring success for CARTA.

Last week, ECCR prepared a Fax for Flex form that riders could use to request a pickup. This would allow the reservations clerk to work from a completed paper form to figure out a pickup time for a rider. This should speed up the process for those people who can fax a form in. CARTA isn’t sure they can use it. It is time to try.

The mainland flex pickup coverage for the #402 needs to be eliminated. Reduce stop locations on the mainland to three, in this order: the wooden bench on the north side of Hungryneck Blvd. between BI-LO and Irongate Plaza (get this stop a sign); Carvel Ice Cream at Town Center (include a sign which clearly indicates which side of the road to wait for the bus on); and the stop shelter at Seaside Farms/Target (put a schedule up there in the now empty plexiglass holder).

Set up a beach season schedule for April to October which includes one pickup at these three locations every hour coordinated with the outbound #40 bus’s arrival from Charleston at Carvel Ice Cream.

Reduce the fare for this bus from a $3 flex charge to a 75 cent upcharge or 50 cents plus a transfer. CARTA will make more money with full buses at those rates than it does with empty ones at what it is charging now. It will make more fares from people traveling to make the connection.

Get the GPS

A bus driver proudly stands next to a bus stop sign on a beautiful day in sunny Charleston, South Carolina.Putting GPS location transmitters on every CARTA bus and feeding that data into a real time routing information system would cost millions of dollars. However, we don’t need that East of the Cooper immediately. It would cost only Five Hundred dollars to put satellite connected beacons on the East Cooper Connector and Beach Bus for a year, service and Internet feed included. That way everyone with a computer or a smart phone can know where these two buses are. Linda Page believes she can find commercial sponsors for this project easily. If you see me at a stop and you are low tech, I’ll be happy to whip out my droid and tell you where the bus is. So will most people. Then we’ll all know.

East Cooper bargained for a tough job and a tight schedule to meet ridership standards for these new routes. CARTA needs to do its part to give them a chance to work.

Disagree or have a different perspective?  Use our feedback form to provide input to East Cooper CARTA riders.

Go to East Cooper CARTA Riders Website- Main Page

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