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CARTA to provide free rides in wake of Bi-Lo closure

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The Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority plans to make a downtown bus route free for the next 30 days to assist Eastside residents affected by the recent closure of the Bi-Lo at 445 Meeting St.

The transit system’s King Street Route 20 (.pdf) will be free through Oct. 29, according to a news release. Buses will run between the former Bi-Lo site and the Food Lion and CVS shopping center at 1015 King St., on the north side of the Crosstown Expressway.

CARTA will provide free bus rides through Oct. 29 from the former Bi-Lo site on Meeting Street to the Food Lion on Upper King Street. (Photo/Liz Segrist)The CARTA board approved the initiative last month. The route’s ridership and costs will be evaluated during the Oct. 19 board meeting.

“This is a situation where the public needs support and public transportation in the region is stepping up by facilitating access to food,” CARTA Board Chairman Mike Seekings said in the release. “We’re going to do what we can to help mitigate this issue in the near term.”

With the closure of the Bi-Lo, the Eastside neighborhood’s closest grocery stores are now more than 1 mile away. The distance can prove difficult for senior citizens or low-income residents without cars, according to officials.

CARTA’s free route is part of a city plan to provide food access to area residents. The city has also partnered with Lowcountry Street Grocery, a mobile food market, to provide healthy foods on the former Bi-Lo site. Details are still being worked out.

The city has launched an East Side Grocery Resources page on its website, listing places where residents can get groceries, prescriptions and other items.

The current land owner, Mount Pleasant-based McAlister Development Co., has not shared its plans for the site. The city said it will work with the developer to bring a grocer back to the site.

Seekings said CARTA is hopeful other businesses, including Food Lion, will assist in the coming weeks. He said the situation could help expand the CARTA Commerce program, which involves businesses offering perks to customers with transit passes.

To date, about a dozen merchants have signed on to the program, the release said.

“This is exactly the kind of creative, collaborative response our citizens expect and appreciate when problems arise, and we’re grateful to CARTA leaders for their willingness to help in this case,” Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said in a statement.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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