by Paul Bowers
Riders and supporters of public transportation will hold a demonstration from 1 to 3 p.m. today at the Mary Street Transit Center (80 Mary St., across from Hughes Lumber downtown). They will be collecting signatures on a petition to oppose a 5-percent cut in services that was proposed at an April 18 CARTA board meeting.
The Hungryneck Straphangers, the local bus advocacy group previously known as East Cooper CARTA Riders, organized the protest. Attorney William Hamilton, coordinator of the group, says that a decrease in services would be inappropriate at a time when CARTA ridership has increased 13 percent in a single year.
"We understand that CARTA has to adjust service based on economic limits, but this plan fails to include any strategies for retaining the current service level or meeting real needs in the future," Hamilton said in a press release about the event. "As our economy changes from one based on the automobile and cheap oil to one focused on talent and mobility, the content and scale of CARTA’s funding model must evolve as well to serve our area."
CARTA board member and Charleston City Councilman Mike Seekings says the 5-percent cutback would help CARTA pay down its debt. The agency currently owes about $3 million on its lines of credit and is overdue on $3 million worth of payments to the private contracting company Veolia, which runs the bus system's day-to-day operations and hires its drivers. Part of the problem comes from Congressional delays in federal grant appropriations, but part of it has to do with CARTA's perennial financial struggles since taking over the regional bus system in 1997.