by Sam Spence
For years, Charleston Area Regional Transportation has operated three free DASH routes downtown, and together they account for more than a quarter of the system's total ridership, moving more than 114,000 riders in April alone. Now North Charleston has its own free shuttle route, a 7.2 mile circuit making 16 stops at the airport, outlets and surrounding retail, hotels, and the coliseum area. "It just made a lot of sense for us to start doing that loop route similar to what they're doing in the peninsula," North Charleston Mayor Keith Summey said in a promotional video released by the city.Shuttling commuters, tourists, convention-goers, and outlet shoppers (Tangerines?) around the loop will be two brand new New Flyer Industries hybrid buses leased by CARTA. The use of hybrid buses on the NASH line is a first for CARTA, but local officials hope the buses' tryout will help them be able to expand their use of green vehicles system-wide. "We gotta reduce our carbon footprint," says CARTA Board Chair Elliott Summey. The agency plans to spend $2 million on fuel this year, according to its FY2013 budget, about 12 percent of its total budget, "any percentage [of savings from the new buses] is good for the bottom line," says Summey. The pair of 40-foot buses, which can hold a maximum of 80 riders, cut down fuel consumption by 30%.
But it's not a simple process to install new buses, especially expensive hybrids, which can be up to 50% more expensive than diesel buses, into service. "The desire has been there from the board for a while," says Chairman Summey, "We're really stepping out there" to try out the new buses on the NASH loop. For now, Summey says the plan is to "Test the buses, let our maintenance guys get their hands on them," and see how it goes, "So far, drivers seem like they love them."
Another first for the NASH line is the involvement of a prominent neighbor, Boeing Co. to fund the project. The $1 million tab for the route is being picked up in equal $300k parts by Boeing, the City of North Charleston, and the Charleston County Aviation Authority, with federal grants paying the remaining balance. "It was a great opportunity since the partnership enabled CARTA to access the grant that they normally would not have received," says CARTA spokesperson Lindsey Barrett. Winning the backing of Boeing was a victory for the agency says Summey, "that was big, big for us." Summey hopes other companies looking to invest in the area will see Boeing's involvement as a positive sign for the region as a whole, "who better to have as a cheerleader than Boeing?"
Google Map of the NASH loop:
View CARTA NASH route in a larger map