Mass transit: ‘This is something I can do’ for greater good

mlucas@thestate.comMay 7, 2012 

  • Quick facts

    • Palmetto Health alone has more than 200 employees who use the region’s bus system to get to work.

    • Over half of all bus riders do not have a driver’s license. Most ride the bus four days or more each week, primarily for work trips, and have been riding for more than five years.

    • The majority of those who use the region’s bus system are “highly transit-dependent.”

    Source: CMRTA’s “Transforming Our Transit System,” January 2010 report and Palmetto Health

  • A RIDER’S PROFILE Arnold Karr • Age: 59 • Where he lives: USC area, downtown • Where he catches the bus: Pendleton and Sumter streets • Destinations: Five Points and Rosewood Drive • Time of day he rides: Varies • Length of trip, one way: 15-20 minutes, sometimes less • What he pays: $40 for a 31-day pass, which allows him unlimited rides anytime. • Number of buses taken, one way: One, occasionally two • What he would change about the buses: We need additional buses that run more frequently. During the times of day when the buses are not as full when the demand is lower, they could run smaller buses more frequently. That would be fuel efficient for the system and would make it more feasible economically. The only people who ride the bus now are the people who cannot afford transportation, can’t afford to take a taxi or it’s too far to walk so they ride the bus even though sometimes that means going to work two hours early or waiting to get off after they come home. No municipal bus system can survive on just the people who have no other option. The transit authority has to find a way to make it attractive to ride and that’s if it runs all the time, is less of a headache and cheaper to ride that driving cars. Perhaps then people will start to understand and appreciate that fewer cars on the road means a better living environment.

Arnold Karr rides the bus but not because he has to.

“It was partly an economic choice on my part,” says the 59-year-old retiree. “But it was also partly out of self interest.”

All those years of commuting from Columbia to the Trenton Correctional Institution in Edgefield County might have had something to do with it.

Karr says he used to drive 65 miles one way when he was working as a teacher for the Department of Corrections, all the while thinking that someday he would give up driving and let someone else take the wheel.

“I wanted to ride the bus,” he says. “And I wanted to ride it around town. Once I was in a position that that was not unreasonable, I made the decision.”

Karr, who lives by himself in a downtown neighborhood near the State House, says he uses the bus to go “just about everywhere.”

“I use the bus for doctors’ appointments or if I need to go grocery shopping or if I want to go to the movies,” he says.

Karr says his decision to make the bus service his No. 1 means of transportation was also something he felt would help contribute to Columbia’s quality of life.

“It’s basically the responsibility of each person to make adjustments to their life where it might be good for the public good,” he says. “I can’t tell everybody what to do but this is something I can do and it’s easy for me to do and it’s cheaper.”

Fewer vehicles on the road, he says, leads to cleaner air and less congestion.

“It’s easier on the environment and improves things about the quality of life for everybody,” he says.

Quality of life is something he’s concerned about not only for his fellow Columbians but for his son.

Karr’s son, Gregory, was an avid bus rider up until recently, when changes to bus routes and schedules began affecting his ability to get to his job in the Rosewood area on a consistent basis. Gregory now takes a mo-ped to work.

Lack of alternative forms of transportation in the city is a concern.

“I’m disappointed that Columbia doesn’t have a commitment to transportation,” Arnold Karr says.

If Columbia wants to build an environment that is “viable for younger workers” like his son, the city should look to the quality of its transportation services first, he says.

“You can’t have a ‘Creative Class’ without those that work for the ‘Creative Class,’” he says.

“What I have seen is a lack of creative thinking across the board in terms of how to make the system work,” Karr says. “But this is not just Columbia but in many places in the United States. People are unwilling to learn how it’s being done in other places or in other parts of the world and how it’s being done successfully.”

Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

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