You are going to want to stroll around Downtown Charleston to visit some areas you wanted to get a closer look at including the side streets, alleys and various nooks. Keep in mind that Charleston, South Carolina is a beautiful city, undeniably rich in history but exploring with a wheelchair has its challenges especially for those using a power wheelchair or scooter despite the city being virtually flat. Being one of the oldest cities in America and having had a number of hurricanes roll through as well as constant earthquakes (even more than California), the streets and sidewalks are not in pristine condition for a wheelchair traveler.
In 2011, the city started to work on making sure all sidewalks in the main downtown area have curb cutouts in addition to smoothing some of the larger cracks on the cobble stone sidewalks to create a more even surface. I was able to see some of this new adaptive construction, which includes tactile paving (truncated domes) on the curb cutout. Some had a completely smooth transition from sidewalk to the street whereas some still had at least an inch step. I saw very little evidence of any cracks in the sidewalk being smoothed and there are a lot of cracks so I had to really pay close attention to the walkway. When exploring the side streets, sometimes the sidewalk’s width significantly narrows. On a few occasions, I found wheeling in the street while minding traffic worked out real nice.
When I visited Charleston, SC in April 2013 I could not find any wheelchair accessible taxis with a ramp. Both my airport taxi drivers and my hotel concierge confirmed that all taxis were vans or some kind of SUV, usually lowered to some degree. This was false information. For my trip, I used two taxi services both not formally accessible but a fair price. One was Salam Transportation, LLC (843.303.5931). Salam is a very kind and honest man who also has other employees assist him with his business. Another company is Johnson’s Limo & Taxi Service in which I had the pleasure of getting Leon as my driver. His direct phone number is 843.345.4758. Leon commonly shuttles people to and from the airport and is therefore often in the downtown area as well.
For a wheelchair accessible taxi company first try Absolute Charleston Taxi Limousine. They provided transportation from the airport to downtown for a flat rate (not metered rate). They will provide only a flat rate or an hourly rate. The vehicle was excellent, and the pleasant lady took time to properly tie down my chair. It was a London style cab with an automatic ramp, and I sat in my wheelchair tied down (and with a shoulder belt) beside the driver. The vehicle is clean and comfortable. The driver arrived on time for each trip and was waiting at the airport (I gave them flight info).
The London Cabs at Charleston Black Cabs can accommodate wheelchairs that are approximately 28 inches wide; depending on the wheel size. If the chair is motorized then they need to know the make and model so they can check and make sure their vehicle can accommodate that specific make and model. If your chair is considered heavy duty wheels then may not. The London Cabs have ramps that fold down and the straps inside to buckle them in. Only one wheelchair can be transported at a time and there are up to 8 vehicles with this ability. They do hourly hires for Kiawah for $170; for downtown to downtown rides it would be $10, prices vary from location.
The Charleston Water Taxi is technically not accessible but for some it may still work with assistance. There are ramps to the taxi but then there are two steps to get into the actual vessel, which the crew is used to and has no problem assisting you with a lift. If using a power wheelchair or scooter one must be able to get out it temporarily for the transfer. The crew can transport a power wheelchair or scooter but cannot lift while a person is still seated in it.
The bus system is wheelchair accessible. All the buses have ramps at the front doors, priority seats, and tie-downs for the wheelchair. In the Historic Charleston area, visitors have the option of using DASH (downtown area shuttles) for free. However, because DASH is free it is often overcrowded with people. This causes drivers to sometimes not want to accommodate a person using a wheelchair, so you may or may not have to wait for a compliant driver. The driver operates the lift, which takes a wheelchair user on board a DASH trolley. A priority seat is available and the driver not only straps down the wheelchair but also sets up a seatbelt, both being mandatory.
In the city of Charleston, there are many parking garages that offer free parking for those with handicapped tags or placards. Though its not advertised, all you have to do is provide your handicapped parking ID number on your parking ticket when exiting (write directly on ticket). Also, you will find some designated street parking spaces that are free, like near the Fort Sumter Liberty dock.
RELATED READS: Charleston, South Carolina Wheelchair Travel Guide – Charleston Place Hotel