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Transportation: Pawleys area bus routes draw support, but need money

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A meeting last week on the possibility of expanding bus services in the Pawleys Island area was well attended with about 40 people in the audience. Yet some key people were missing.

Many of those the service would aid didn’t have a way to get there, a perfect example of why public transportation needs to be made more accessible in the community, said Suzanne Harris, one of the organizers of the meeting, which took place at Precious Blood of Christ Catholic Church.

A joint effort between the church, the Georgetown County League of Women Voters and Coast Regional Transportation Authority, the meeting was an early step in exploring the feasibility of creating a new route to serve the interior communities of the Pawleys Island area.

The bus routes Coast currently has that serve the Waccamaw Neck run between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach, stopping to pick up passengers on Highway 17. They have to stand along the busy highway and try to flag down the bus, something that can prove dangerous and largely unhelpful for residents unable to walk or get another ride to reach the highway, Harris said.

The new route would be a “community circulator.” A bus would be stationed constantly on the Waccamaw Neck, running a circular route that would pick up residents from with communities and hit key destinations, such as medical offices and stores.

Cost to ride would probably be about 50 cents.

Part of the purpose for the meeting was to get input from the community about the areas the route would hit. A survey seeking input on the route is still circulating.

“We’re talking about a transportation system that improves mobility for all residents of Georgetown County and the Waccamaw Neck; a service that will provide mobility to medical appointments, to jobs and recreational activities,” said Myers Rollins, Coast’s CEO and general manager.

Horry and Georgetown counties are first and third in the number of people 65 and older who move to the state and get a drivers license for the first time, he told the group.

“Imagine them for the first time navigating Highway 17 during bike week,” Rollins instructed. “That’s what they’re doing and it’s not because they want to. It’s because they have mobility challenges. They have things they have to get from the store. They have to go for medical appointments.”

The number of those people moving to Georgetown and Horry counties is likely to increase as more baby boomers reach retirement age, he said.

Additionally, there are people who need public transportation to access jobs – one reason the Georgetown to Myrtle Beach route was established several years ago with support from Georgetown County Council, Rollins said. He cited information on the cost to own and operate a standard economy vehicle, which totals about $6,500 a year.

When Harris said many of the people who need to fill out surveys and have input on the new route weren’t present, one person demanded from the audience how she knew that. She talks to them at Father Pat’s lunch kitchen at Precious Blood, she replied, prompting the man to ask how they get there. Told they walk to the church, he said “what’s wrong with walking?”

Yet for the most part, response at the meeting was positive. Most of those present were either members of the church, the League or both, or are involved with Coast. But there were a few who attended to get information for friends or relatives who would benefit.

Johnnie Dean, who lives on Waverly Road, said she has a relative who is unable to drive and a circulator that made a stop in that area would be a big help.

“I know a lot of people who don’t have vehicles and currently use [buses] from 17, but there are a lot of others who can’t get to 17,” she said.

Mary Ward asked about the possibility of getting the circulator to stop at the Lakes at Litchfield, a community for the elderly where her 100-year-old mother-in-law lives. “I know some people in the community could use it,” she said.

Coast would work with all communities to try to create opportunities to serve as many residents as possible, Rollins said.

To make the route a reality, funding would have to be located to match grant money. Possible locations are also being sought to house bus shelters. Precious Blood has already agreed to allow one of the shelters on its property.

To help move the process along, people can help circulate the surveys and talk with elected officials about the need for expanded service, according to Rollins.

Harris said she will work diligently to canvas neighborhoods and ensure those who would benefit from the service have a say through the surveys.

“It can’t just stop with this meeting,” Harris said.

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