In 2004, CARTA was in big trouble. Total ridership that year was just 890,417, and service had been reduced by 75 percent. There was plenty of speculation that Charleston's public transit would completely disappear.
Four years later, at a time when Columbia's bus system teeters on the edge of dissolution, CARTA is thriving. At November's end, the year's ridership had already reached 3,709,053, a 20.32 percent increase from 2007's total of 3,347,822. If that trend continues this month, CARTA will easily surpass four million bus rides in Charleston for the year, topping their previous best of 3,894,140 in 2001.
Howard Chapman, the executive director of CARTA, says that's attributable to both the willingness of the organization's board to stay the course through rough economic times, and the acquisition of federal grant money. Despite fuel costs of $1.2 million and another $1 million in extra operating costs, CARTA did not cut routes and finished the 2008 fiscal year in the black.
Since this time last year, the number of riders using the service's express runs to travel from West Ashley or Mt. Pleasant to workplaces downtown has doubled to over 40,000. The service has added four buses (12 total), and partners with MUSC, the College of Charleston, Roper Hospital, and the City of Charleston to subsidize the cost of workers' commutes.