[image-1]One of the nation’s oldest bus fleets took a step into the 21st century this week as CARTA began offering free wi-fi for passengers.

The upgrade comes as part of a two-year deal between the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority and Verizon Wireless. In exchange for free advertising in the form of fully branded bus wraps, the wireless carrier has outfitted 75 of the fleet’s 122 vehicles with internet capabilities. The service is currently available on all of CARTA’s Express and main line buses.

CARTA officials hope that the prospect of internet access during the daily commute will be enough to attract more students and professionals to the bus system.

“Our passengers now have a clear advantage over automobile drivers when it comes to technology and connectivity,” says CARTA board chairman Mike Seekings. “It’s a first for our system. It’s a first for our region. And we envision this service as being the sort of tool that will delight our customers and also get people on the bus for the first time.”

The addition of free wi-fi is CARTA’s latest attempt to increase ridership as the transit authority struggles to cover a service area population of more than 543,000 on its $20 million budget. In its last full fiscal year, CARTA collected more than $3.2 million in fares, according to the National Transit Database. Public transit in Charleston reached a record five million rides last year. This July, the most recent month for which figures are available, CARTA reported more than 400,000 unlinked passenger trips. Unfortunately, each trip costs approximately four to fives times more than it takes in. This is why offering new perks such as internet service are vital for CARTA.

As the current fleet continues to age, with many buses nearing 20 years on the road, the pending cost of repairs and replacements will have to be met if CARTA is to continue serving all those who rely on public transportation to get to their jobs.

“This public-private partnership is a model for the type of collaboration it’s going to take to ensure the success of public transit in the Charleston area,” said CARTA Executive Director Ron Mitchum. “We know that success is critical in keeping our region moving forward.”