While not a major city with a massive subway network, Charleston does offer public transportation for those who don't want to navigate the Holy City and its many attractions by car or on foot. Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA) is the city's transit system and offers bus service as well as park and ride options throughout Charleston and Dorchester counties. For visitors, the network's free Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) offers three shuttle routes in the historic Peninsula, including attractions like the South Carolina Aquarium, Charleston Museum, Charleston Visitors Center, and Waterfront Park and offers a great alternative to parking and driving in downtown.
How to Ride Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH)
Free for visitors and residents alike, Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) operates three shuttles buses with routes that cover Charleston's main peninsula.
- Fares: Free.
- Routes and hours: The shuttles offer three, color-coded routes. The Orange Line (Route 210) includes the College of Charleston, South Carolina Aquarium, Marion Square, and Charleston Visitor Center. The Green Line (Route 211) makes stops at the Citadel, the College of Charleston, Visitors Center, and Ashley River hotels. The Purple Line (Route 213) includes stops at Waterfront Park, City Market, the Charleston Museum, and Upper King Street/Design District. Shuttles run from approximately 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. Shuttles do not operate on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas and operate on a Sunday schedule on other federal holidays as well as Christmas Eve and the day after Christmas.
- Service alerts: Inclement weather and traffic can sometimes disrupt routes. For the most up-to-date information, call customer service at (843) 724-7420, visit the website, or download the Transit app.
- Accessibility: All shuttles are wheelchair accessible and allow service animals.
How to Ride the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority (CARTA)
For visitors and residents alike, CARTA provides bus service in and around Charleston proper as well as surrounding areas like the Isle of Palms and Charleston International Airport. Options include more than a dozen regular routes, Hop Shuttle Park and Ride, three suburban express routes, and service to and from the airport.
- Fares: A single one-way fare is $2. An express trip fare is $3.50, while a day pass is $7. Children under 6 ride for free with a paying adult. Discounts are available for patrons with qualifying incomes, college students, seniors (55+), and those with accessibility needs.
- Different types of passes: CARTA offers multi-day as well as multi-trip passes. Three-day passes are $14, seven-day passes are $15 ($25 for express), and 31-day passes are $57 ($99 for express). Ten-trip passes are $16 and 40-trip passes are $56.
- How to pay: Passes can be purchased online or in-person at several locations, including the Charleston Visitor Center, Mount Pleasant Visitor Center, and the main office in North Charleston. Major credit cards are accepted. Cash-only fares must be paid with exact change.
- Routes and hours: CARTA offers several bus routes across two counties as well as park and ride lots, three express routes, and an airport shuttle. Hours are Monday through Friday, 5:15 a.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday from 6 a.m. to 12 a.m., and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. On holidays, buses operate on a Sunday schedule. Express service is suspended the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas as well. Note that express service between Charleston International Airport, the Tanger Outlet Center, and downtown operates weekdays and Saturdays between approximately 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sundays between 12 p.m. and 7 p.m.
- Service alerts: Inclement weather and traffic can sometimes disrupt routes. For the most up-to-date information, call customer service at (843) 724-7420, visit the CARTA website, or download the Transit app.
- Transfers: The first transfer is free, but must be requested in advance when boarding the bus and paying the initial fare.
- Accessibility: In addition to discounted fares for individuals with disabilities, all CARTA fixed-route buses are wheelchair accessible and meet Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Additional accommodations include lifts for wheelchairs and mobility devices, priority seating near the front of busses, and service animals.
Taxis and Ride-Hailing Apps
While taxis aren't as widespread in Charleston as in other major cities, they are readily available at the airport. There is a $15 minimum charge for taxis leaving the airport, and the average cost for the 12-mile ride to downtown is $25 to $30. The city's taxi companies include Charleston Green Taxi, Charleston Cab Company, and Charleston Taxi Service.
Ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft are also available throughout the city and the suburbs and are the best way of getting around town or traveling to nearby communities.
Renting a Car
While not ideal if you're planning to spend all of your time in downtown Charleston, renting a car is recommended if you are planning to visit nearby beaches like Edisto Island (an hour from downtown) or Isle of Palms (40 minutes from downtown) or take a day trip to Hilton Head Island or Savannah, GA (both two hours away).
Major rental car companies like Alamo, Hertz, and National have outposts at the Charleston International Airport, as well as in downtown, West Ashley, and North Charleston.
Keep in mind that parking downtown can be expensive, but there are several city-operated and private lots available. CARTA also offers park and ride at points in North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, West Ashley, James Island, and Summerville. Hotels outside of downtown generally have free parking.
Tips for Getting Around Charleston
- Be mindful of rush hour traffic. While not a large city, Charleston's coastal location, 800,000 residents, and nearly 7 million annual visitors do cause the occasional traffic jam. There are often delays on major routes like I-26 and I-17 during rush hour (7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. weekdays) and high tourist season (March through June), so plan your trip accordingly.
- Plan extra time in case of special events, inclement weather, or road construction. From the annual Spoleto Festival and Cooper River Bridge Run to tropical storms and highway construction, any number of special events or circumstances could result in road closures or delays. Check the South Carolina Department of Transportation website for up-to-date information on traffic and road conditions.
- When in doubt, walk, use a rideshare, or DASH. At least on the Charleston peninsula, exploring the city on foot, with a rideshare, or utilizing the free DASH network are the easiest and cheapest ways to enjoy your stay.