Everywhere you look these days in Charleston, a new taxi service seems to be opening its doors. Even CARTA has gotten into the act.
Well, sort of.
A few months ago, South London transplant Carl Rowe opened Charleston Black Cab Co. on Daniel Island with three imported London black cabs, replete with top-hat height roofs and a fold-out rear boot (a trunk, that is).
Initial demand has been so great that Rowe, who sold a small, eight-room hotel in his home country in order to set up shop in Charleston after only a few vacations here, put in an order for 10 more of the $52,000 vehicles, which are identical to the ones scooting between Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus.
The new batch will arrive at the beginning of February.
Taking nearly as old school of an approach, Chip Deaton and Scott Connelly relaunched the Charleston Water Taxi service just before the New Year, and now ferry tourists and locals between the Charleston Harbor Marina and Patriots Point Marina in 30-minute loops on the Ms. Evelyn.
While Rowe's cabs are regulated by City ordinance to the same price as all the other cab companies — $2 for the pick-up and 35 cents for each additional fifth of a mile — Deaton and Connelly charge passengers $8 for a round-trip ticket, and $12 for an all-day pass.
At dusk, the Ms. Evelyn becomes the cheapest sunset cruise in the harbor.
But as good a deal as the Deaton and Connelly provide, nothing can touch the Flex-route service CARTA kicked off in Mt. Pleasant and James Island on Monday.
For $1.25, anyone living in either of those areas can call CARTA and request that a small shuttle van pick them up at their door and, during regular bus route hours, take them to the nearest bus stop.
Since there are no fixed routes on James Island or in Mt. Pleasant, Flex-route riders can ride all the way into downtown Charleston if they like at no extra charge.
Late at night, after 1 a.m., when bars are emptying and the incidence of driving under the influence is on the rise, revelers can now call CARTA from any part of the four "zones" — East of the Cooper, the peninsula, N. Charleston, and James Island/West Ashley — and be taken from tavern door to home for as little as $1.25, and for as much as $1.50, if they have to transfer "zones."
Similar to the regional transit authority's Dial-A-Ride service, Flex-routes are available to more than just the aged and infirm. Flex-route is also similar to a system the Charlotte Area Transportation System (CATS) offers between the Queen City's downtown and an upscale South Mecklenburg County suburb not unlike Mt. Pleasant.
CARTA Executive Director Howard Chapman dispels criticism that the new Flex-route program is a publicly underwritten taxi service, even though it will doubtless compete with existing taxi and limousine companies.
"Number one, you don't get to pick who you ride with in our vans," says Chapman. "You could have five to six people in the van. If you do want to ride by yourself, then you can go ahead and pay for a cab."
Number two, Chapman sees the new service as an extension of the fixed-route service, and is using it to establish where a fixed route could eventually be established in either Mt. Pleasant or James Island, neither of which has the residential density needed to support public transit.
Flex-route is part of a host of new and returning services CARTA has instituted since last summer, when it began receiving the first wave of half-cent sales tax money after a year of near-insolvency.
Since that time, CARTA has restored all of its prior routes and is on the way to doubling its number of vehicles on the road.
Even though the new service will compete directly with his company, which cost close to $750,000 of his own money to start, Charleston Black Cab's Rowe welcomes CARTA's latest ride.
"I truly believe that what Charleston is lacking is a really, really good transportation system, and that is holding the city back, somewhat, from becoming what it could be," says Rowe, who remembers being able to catch a taxi or a public bus even out in the English countryside..
Pushing across the harbor on his stable catamaran, Deaton complains CARTA hasn't been all that welcoming to partnering with his fledgling company. He says that despite his repeated offers to share a sign with his water taxi along the Aquarium Wharf street frontage, CARTA officials haven't seemed interested.
"And we send everybody who rides with us to the DASH buses," says Deaton, whose favorite downtown bus driver is named "Marilyn." "That's the first thing we did when we decided to open up, take all the DASH buses all over the peninsula so we could tell people what bus to take to what spot. They're fabulous."
Well, sounds like Chapman better hope that half-cent foes don't hear about his transit authority's inaction lest, to make the worst of all transportation puns, "what goes around, comes around."