“Embrace the awkward silence” when carpooling with someone you’ve just met. Enjoy “face time with complete strangers” on public transit. “No dress code required” if you work from home.
The creators of Lowcountry Go, the state’s first commuter services program, take a playful approach to trying to change habits that are causing serious congestion in the booming Tri-county area. The populations of Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties are soaring, and so are traffic and auto emissions.
Lowcountry Go, which launched today on the Charleston Medical District Greenway by the Medical University of South Carolina, is aimed at reducing road congestion by encouraging carpooling, the use of public transit, walking, biking and other alternatives to solo driving.
MUSC Health’s executive director of community health innovation, Anton Gunn, called it an important step forward. “It’s an incredible new tool in the multi-faceted, regional approach that is necessary to keep traffic moving and, in our case, ensure health care professionals are able to get to their jobs.”
Lowcountry Go is a partnership involving the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, the state Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and large employers such as MUSC.
In addition to connecting car and vanpool participants and showing the environmental and health benefits of taking part in the program, Lowcountry Go works with companies to give employees more choices. That includes flextime, staggered shifts, working from home and incentives to get people to take part in the program.
Ron Mitchum, executive director of the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments, said a survey found that about 90 percent of people in the Tri-county area drive by themselves to work. “Obviously, that’s a problem we need to change.”
The chairman of the Charleston County Council agreed. Vic Rawl said he has lived in the area for 72 years and knows how people have traditionally viewed commuting. “The Southern perspective is, you have a constitutional right to a driver’s license, a car, a road to drive it on, a place to park and cheap gas. The Southern perspective was a great theory 25 years ago. It has now become a very destructive theory for our economy and our health, to say nothing of our financial ability to cope.”
On the financial front, Lowcountry Go is designed to save people money by letting them use less gas and reduce wear and tear on cars and trucks.
And Gunn highlighted its health benefits. “Air pollution caused by auto emissions can significantly increase the likelihood of issues like asthma, allergies and COPD. So reducing the number of cars on the road will be a positive step forward in that regard.” COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a lung condition that makes it hard to breathe.
For people who worry that carpooling will leave them stuck at work when an emergency arises, Mitchum had an answer. “It provides a reimbursable emergency ride home program for ride sharing participants.” Registered users can grab a cab or rideshare in a crisis and the program will cover the cost, up to $55 each use, for up to three uses per year.
Lowcountry Go, which is funded by the Berkeley Charleston Dorchester Council of Governments, the South Carolina Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration, is the latest in a series of campaigns designed to change the way people get around the Tri-county area. The bike share program Holy Spokes launched at MUSC and elsewhere in Charleston last May, and the Charleston Moves program advocates for safe walking and bicycling.
For people who still aren’t quite sure they want to take part, the Lowcountry Go website advises: “It’s only weird if you make it weird.”