CONWAY, S.C. (WBTW) — Coast RTA is expanding service to more rural areas in the region; a move it says will help get more people to work amid the Grand Strand’s staffing shortage.
The expansion is the second of four phases. The first phase was re-starting service to the North Myrtle Beach area.
This phase will extend a route from the Market Common district in Myrtle Beach to Tidelands Hospital in Murrells Inlet along SC-707. It also will expand service to Georgetown between Andrews, the City of Georgetown and down Highway 17 to the Horry-Georgetown Technical College campus in Georgetown.
“We had a lot of people trying to get to jobs and circulate in and around Georgetown County so we are really excited about doing the service,” said Brian Piascik, Coast RTA’s CEO and general manager.
Piascik added, employers along the Grand Strand were the most vocal throughout the process and he hopes this can ease the staffing shortage.
“We hear employers all the time talk about the difficulty they have in keeping and retaining employees,” he said. “Transportation is a huge part of that.”
With the help of CARES Act funding, Coast RTA was able to operate the past year fully on federal funding, allowing them to pool resources for continued expansion.
“We were able to take about $5 million and lay it out in service improvements over the next five years,” he explained.
He adds they are also looking into other ways to improve transportation options.
“In addition to these service improvements, we’re also hoping to implement a van-pool program,” he said. “Which would allow employers to pool employees who live in the same area together and drive themselves to work. Coast RTA can subsidize that service and use it toward ridership.”
Piascik said this sort of expansion is vital in proving the need for increased transportation services in the region.
“If you look at systems around the country in areas of 300 to 350,000 which is what we are on any given day, those systems pull out 50 buses,” he said. “We pull out 15. We are woefully undersized for the system we serve.”
Coast RTA is also hoping for a new facility. Something Piascik says will allow them to continue to grow, better maintain the buses and save between $200,000 and $300,000 a year.
“The bulk of our service is in Myrtle Beach” he explained. “A lot of that is being more responsive to service interruptions like a wiper blade falls off a bus we can go get it replaced or get that bus out of service a lot more efficiently than we could from here [Conway].”
The plan would include renovating the current facility on Third Avenue in Conway as a stop for passengers.
Piascik spoke to Horry County Council at the annual budget retreat, asking for about $1.2 million to put toward the project. It would cost about $18,000,000 total and if the funding is secured this summer, Piascik says the project could be finished in 2023.