by Paul Bowers
The CARTA Board of Directors unanimously elected Mike Seekings as its new chairman on Wednesday. Seekings, an attorney and member of Charleston City Council, joined the board in 2010 and was serving as secretary treasurer.
Seekings is replacing longtime chairman Elliott Summey on the governing board of the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority, which is currently in a state of flux. The board has been cutting bus routes to reduce costs and also voted this week to increase the standard fare from $1.75 to $2. The rate change will go into effect Oct. 4.
"My priority No. 1 is to get us financially stable, get up to date and current with our service provider [Veolia Transportation], and replace the fleet," Seekings says. "We are at the end of our service life basically on every single bus that's on the road."
CARTA recently underwent another leadership change on July 1 when Ron Mitchum, director of the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments, took over management of CARTA at no cost under a management agreement signed by the board. Mitchum replaced Interim Executive Director Jeff Burns, who had been filling the role since former Executive Director Christine Wilkinson resigned in July 2014. Mitchum has said that part of his focus will be on improving CARTA's regional service, including through a long-term study to identify traffic alternatives to I-26 and a possible partnership with the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Rural Transportation Management Association in outlying areas.
Seekings says he has been pleased with Mitchum's leadership so far.
"I think he's taken it very seriously," Seekings says. "He's really put our situation into metrics that everyone can understand, and he's gotten way out in front on trying to find some buses."
Seekings, who represents the downtown neighborhoods of Harleston Village and South of Broad on City Council, had previously hinted at a possible run for mayor in this year's crowded race to replace Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr., but the filing deadline passed this week, and his name did not appear on the list of candidates. He says his decision to stay out of the race had to with "timing," but also with geography.
"We polled, we looked at it, and I think it was an uphill battle given my downtown position and the West Ashley contingent," Seekings says. "I think this cycle is going to be a West Ashley election. I'm proud to be part of it, looking forward to staying on City Council, and I will tell you it's a job I'm interested in ... Our team thought this time we'd take a pass and see what happens."
The CARTA board also voted Wednesday to install Charleston County Council member Anna Johnson as vice chair and Mt. Pleasant Town Council member Gary Santos as secretary treasurer.