Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Reach the Beach Bus Gaining Traction- Report from the Route

Shuttle Stop on Isle of Palms
Mt. Pleasant, SC - June 1, 2021

Members of Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit rode the new Reach the Beach Shuttle on all three days of its initial weekend of operation, spoke to other riders and checked online input. While there were a few bumps, people like the service and planned to return with friends and family in the weekends ahead. We think CARTA is going to need a bigger bus.

General, updated information on the Reach the Beach Shuttle

Most importantly, despite apparently incomplete driver preparation, the three bus routes connected reliably with the #40 bus route connecting directly with the Reach the Beach Shuttle all three times we were on board as intended. You use the #40 bus to connect with downtown Charleston at the Mary Street Transit center and the rest of the CARTA system. The #42, when it is running, connects with North Mt. Pleasant. Not all the drivers working understood what was intended, but they had figured the necessary connections out and made sure it was working by Sunday. Once you are on board the #40 to Mt. Pleasant, your chances of reaching the beach are good.

Weirdly, you’ll have a short wait on the mainland at Town Center when traffic to the beach isn’t backed up since the route is timed for congested conditions. On Saturday, our Beach Shuttle took off immediately after the #40 Mt. Pleasant Bus and #42 Wando Connector bus reached Town Center, but on Sunday when it was overcast and traffic was light, we had about a 15 minute wait. Standing time on the Isle of Palms is always very short on this route.

Shuttle Stop at Mt. Pleasant Town Centre
There were nagging problems with GPS tracking, internet wayfinding and getting ETAs using Google Transit and the Transit App on Saturday. There were times the Reach the Beach shuttle didn’t display on the Transit app at all and other times where it was showing as scheduled, without live updates. This had improved a lot by Monday. We saw most people on the shuttle using the app, so making online bus tracking and ETA’s reliable is becoming critical to the success of this transit system. New riders are coming to transit with a smart phone in their hand and rely on it to sustain the confidence needed to ride.

Something seems wrong with the online version of the shuttle schedule for Sunday, which shows a half hour wait at Town Center where there shouldn't be one. The shuttle schedule should be shifted to connect directly with the #40, which runs a different schedule on Sundays and Holidays from Saturday. 

The Midi medium sized bus chosen for the service was very clean and fully up to date with on board screens displaying ride progress, but it did lack a bike rack which was desired by some riders. Hopefully as ridership grows a full sized electric Proterra bus with a bike rack will be provided.

Report from the Route

Chris Jackson boarding in Mt. Pleasant
We ran three test rides with other passengers over the weekend. On Monday and Sunday, we took some of the young people who have worked with us over the years to the beach. They had a great time and were working on recruiting their neighbors to join them next weekend from where they lives along the #10 bus route in N. Charleston. On Sunday we took two volunteers with the feeding the homeless effort out to IOP. Neither of them had been to the beach in years and they both had a great time. On our way back, other passengers started singing wheels on the bus, which we managed to get a second round of recorded. One of the other passengers was astounded by the view from the elevated seats at the back of the bus. He had driven out to the beach many times, but spent those trips fixated on the bumper in front of him. The bus provided an opportunity to look out at the waterway, marches, creeks and sounds which are visible from the connector.

We’re planning Reach the Beach Trips from other locations on the CARTA system with paid fare, drinks and lunch for those who ask for assistance. We’ll be making a special Open the Ocean for Kids effort to get groups and families to the beach whose children may not have been to the beach before. Trips from the Recycled Love Thrift Store on Remount Road in N. Charleston on June 19 and a mammoth ride from Summerville on June 26 are already scheduled. A ride from West of the Ashely and the Pink House Neighborhood resource center is in planning. All rides can be joined along the way in Downtown Charleston and at other locations along the routes used.

Monday, we learned that a lady we leafleted earlier in the weekend went out to the beach for the first time in 35 years. She had stopped going when her husband died back in the 1980s. On Monday she took her grandchild with her for his first visit to the ocean.

A lot of people took the shuttle out to the beach for only one hour, checking it out for family visits in the future. Most of these people were parking at Mt. Pleasant Town Centre.

Public Response and Plans for the Future

Pathway to Beach from IOP Stop
We’ve followed public reaction to the service online. Most people are enthusiastic about the service. They recognize that no matter how much parking is opened up near our beaches, a Metro area with 830 thousand people headed towards a million with the arrival of a bus load of new residents every day can’t manage to provide a way for everyone who wants to to drive to the beach. 

A lot of people were on CARTA for the first time and had a positive experience. Everyone on board agreed it was far less stressful than fighting the traffic on the connector. They arrive at the beach happier and had less to dread on their trip home. There are still people bitterly angry that not everyone choses to go to the beach the way they do, with hundreds of pounds of gear. They apparently don’t understand that when we decide to “Be Like Chloe (Video)” travel light and ride the bus that we’re conserving parking spaces for them. Many people in our area have a massive emotional investment in their vehicles and the power they provide.  They’re not interested in the freedom and happiness of others if a change diminishes their relative power.

The stop at the beach does need some shade and seating, however it is not as bad as it looks. In the afternoon, the adjacent house throws its shadow across the path and nearly everyone has a chair with them. Unfortunately, this shaded location doesn’t provide a clear view of the direction from which the bus arrives.

Folly Beach

We’ve had a lot of people ask about Folly beach. Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit did conduct a Spring and Summer long campaign to bring transit to Folly Beach in 2018 which helped get the Folly Road bus line extended miles closer to the actual beach and to a new stop on Sol Legare Island at the Harris Teeter. We continue to leaflet people at Folly to raise awareness and build support. We haven’t given up, but getting to Folly won’t happen unless the shuttle to IOP gets strong support.

We believe that as the Summer heats up, usage of the Reach the Beach Shuttle will increase through June, July and early August before the rainy weather begins. It’s a great way to reach the beach, reliable and stress free. Parking at Town Centre should be sufficient and it looks like most people will use it as a park and ride service to the beach, however the real payoff for the community is Opening the Ocean for everyone with access to the CARTA bus route.

We look forward to that success and celebrating the Opening of the Ocean at 11 am on the Isle of Palms on July 17 when Thomas Dixon hurls the key to the sea into the ocean. We’re looking for someone with a Kayak and kiteboard to help carry the key all the way out into the deep, so it stays there as we hope our new Reach the Beach Shuttle stays to bring thousands of people to the beach in this and future summers.

Comments, Input and Supporting Our Work

If you have comments or input, you can email Best Friends of Lowcountry Transit Executive Director William Hamilton at wjhamilton29464@gmail.com or call him at (843) 870-5299. You can support our efforts by donating online through Act Blue at https://secure.actblue.com/donate/best-friends-of-lowcountry-transit--inc--1?fbclid=IwAR2LGKxdmMUqJKvcGZGKYPlZKfC0qfcvvk5SyqC0M1FAzs3556LTDvSSEi0

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