By Ruben Lowman
Coast RTA has partnered with North Myrtle Beach to bring a new public bus route into the city, one of the few remaining municipalities in Horry County without public transportation.
The new route is expected to start October 1 and will connect North Myrtle Beach to Myrtle Beach by way of International Drive in the Carolina Forest area, according to Coast RTA spokesperson Lauren Morris.
“We have not finalized the exact route, but the route will originate at the Ivory Wilson Transit Center, next to Myrtle Beach City Hall,” said Coast RTA’s CEO and GM Brian Piascik. “[The route] will provide service along Grissom Parkway, serve McLeod Hospital and Startek along International Drive and then continue up 17 to Tanger Outlets, Barefoot Landing and hopefully provide connectivity to the Ocean Drive-area resorts and retail.”
The initial plans for the Waccamaw Regional Transit Authority’s expansion of services into North Myrtle Beach for the first time since 2006, according to Morris, called for free entertainment shuttles starting in mid-June that would ferry riders to the various tourist attractions throughout city limits, including Barefoot Landing and Main Street.
Those plans were drawn up at the city’s annual budget retreat in Pinopolis in late February just before the coronavirus outbreak emerged on the global stage and forced leaders all over the world to slash budgets and cancel events. This area was no different, and the free shuttles were among the many projects that were put on hold until a later date.
“The decision to temporarily table the North Myrtle Beach Entertainment Shuttle was related to COVID-19,” Piascik said. “The city and Coast RTA agreed that it was not the right time to launch a test program.”
North Myrtle Beach officials had allocated $250,000 to fund the new shuttle program in its initial budget proposal for this fiscal year, but as a result of delaying its rollout the city will instead commit $15,000 to “help cover the costs associated with installing signs along the route and marketing expenses,” according to Piascik.
He said that the financial restraints the pandemic has placed on municipalities and businesses meant the investment from the city was a measure of “good faith” in order to continue to strengthen their partnership.
“Understanding the budget impacts that everyone has had to endure during the pandemic, the $15,000 was a ‘show of good faith’ commitment from North Myrtle Beach towards the expansion of service,” Piascik said.
“We are hoping the city will be able to increase their funding next fiscal year. We still plan to start the free shuttle in North Myrtle Beach next summer,” he continued. “Coast RTA has the resources, through the CARES Act, to start service to what we consider to be a critical part of a more viable transit network.”
In projecting the operating expenses necessary to sustain the new route, Piascik used the example of the entertainment shuttle that services Myrtle Beach.
“For Coast RTA to put a bus into service, the annual cost is approximately $250-300,000 for a fixed route (such as the regional MB to NMB route). For reference, the Entertainment Shuttle in Myrtle Beach has an approximate annual cost of around $200,000, but that is for two vehicles that operate 22 hours a day for 90 days between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” Piascik explained. “We envision similar adjustments to North Myrtle Beach service next summer where the shuttle would connect to the regional route.”
Bus fares are $1.50 one-way for a fixed route, which will include the North Myrtle Beach line when it opens in the fall. The transit authority has adjusted its COVID-19 precautions to conform with local ordinances throughout its service area that have recently required customers to wear facial coverings while inside public places. Drivers can provide a mask to passengers upon request.
Coast RTA was founded in 1983 as the Coastal Rapid Public Transit Authority (CRPTA) to provide transportation to area residents in need. It has grown and reformed as the public, non-profit Waccamaw Regional Transit Authority that currently has seven fixed routes serving Horry and Georgetown Counties.
“Our new website will be live the first week of August and we will be on the agenda for the North Myrtle Beach Council meeting in August as well,” Morris said when asked how residents can engage in the decisionnmaking process.
She said that Coast RTA wanted “North Myrtle Beach riders to be on the lookout for public input opportunities. We want to make the service successful to their community.”
For additional information on routes, schedules and fares call Coast RTA at 843-488-0865 or visit their website at www.RideCoastRTA.com