Last week as many in our community celebrated festive holidays, two news briefs whose subjects profoundly affect our everyday lives seemed to slip into oblivion. Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson announced $1.4 million has been secured to construct CARTA bus shelters and purchase three new buses for use in his senate district 42 that includes much of West Ashley and North Charleston. And CARTA officials announced that in downtown Charleston its #20 King Street/Citadel route will continue free to riders through the first six months of 2017. The route has been conducted free to riders since October.
For many low income residents CARTA’s transit system is essential to their mobility. Kimpson and Charleston Dist. 3 Councilman James Lewis were asked how the two initiatives will impact their constituents now and in the future.
Lewis, who was among the proponents for providing alternatives to downtown Charleston residents affected by the recent closing of the Bi-Lo grocery store on Meeting Street, said extending free ridership to CARTA’s #20 route passengers is a small, but critical effort in the much bigger goal of providing a more reliable and efficient public transportation system to a region that’s growing exponentially.
Several area businesses and individuals contributed the $46,000 to fund the extended free service. The route since October has seen a 50 percent increase in ridership. The businesses which include Mickey Bakst of Feed the Need and Belmond Charleston Place, Hilton and Catherine Smith, East Bay Company, Neil Robinson, Sean Litton of Peninsula Company, Tony McAlister of McAlister Development Company and Blackbaud are challenging others in the Charleston business community to get involved and fund an entire year of service on Route 20.
“When you look at how Charleston is changing, how its long-time residents are being impacted, I think it is incumbent upon leaders in the business community to step in and help,” said Bakst. “Food is important to our city’s identity and it’s a core essential for everyone. We have to make sure that all residents have access to groceries. It’s the right thing to do.”
Lewis said while the effort to address the specific issue of the Bi-Lo closing is critical to residents who don’t have many transportation options, efficient mass transportation is a regional issue that also must be addressed.
“With the estimated 40 people moving to the region every day, we’re going to see a crunch in housing and transportation. Low income residents are being displaced from the urban centers where they work,” he said. He agrees that mass transportation impacts the ability of many residents to access training and jobs that lead to an exit from poverty and dependence on public assistance.
Kimpson said he’s tired of seeing his constituents standing without shelter in inclement weather waiting on buses so when Charleston County voters in November passed a $2.1 billion 25-year referendum that will provide $600 million for mass transportation he sought some of that money for use in his Dist. 42. Additionally he was able to access state and federal funds to total the $1.4 million that will be used in Dist. 42. Riders will see approximately 20 brand-new bus shelters and three new buses on the road thanks to the county’s resources and more than $900,000 in additional matching federal funds they will unlock. Those items will be dispersed throughout District 42.