MYRTLE BEACH — Coast RTA general manager Myers Rollins says Coastal Carolina University’s decision not to continue using the agency’s buses starting in August is a “win-win” situation for both the college and the mass transit system.
For Coast RTA, it allows them to focus on their core mission of providing quality mass transportation to the public, Rollins said. The next step in that mission is a shuttle service to Myrtle Beach International Airport that starts running on April 2, the same day the airport’s new $118 million terminal opens to the public.
“It’s uncharted waters,” Rollins said. He added Myrtle Beach has never had a fixed route airport service before.
With the new terminal, Myrtle Beach International Airport’s total number of gates will increase from seven to 13.
Two buses, which Coast RTA got through grants for $350,000 each, will take visitors to and from the airport. They’ll leave the terminal, head down to Harrelson Boulevard to Kings Highway, and then one will head north while the other goes south, Rollins said.
There will be fixed stops along the routes, which includes a number of the large hotels on Ocean Boulevard, Rollins said. The service will run seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the beginning.
Rollins said the service might be tweaked as Coast RTA works with airport officials to identify key times to pick up and drop off travelers.
A message left for Kirk Lovell, spokesman for Myrtle Beach International Airport, was not returned before press time.
As for the loss of the CCU service, Rollins said it isn’t a huge surprise because Coast RTA always knew a decision would have to be made about whether to go beyond their five-year contract term.
And for the college, that meant going in a different direction.
Stacie Bowie, vice president for finance and administration at CCU, said once the contract is up in August the college will create its own shuttle service.
Bowie added this decision allows CCU to be responsive to the needs of the students by setting its own bus schedule and routes.
“And we can change that at the drop of a hat,” she said. Bowie added they don’t have the ability via their current contract with Coast RTA to make changes as quickly as they’d like.
CCU is purchasing six trolley-style shuttles and have a request in with the state bus fleet for three additional shuttle buses to serve as backups, Bowie said. The annual cost for the service will come out to around $650,000, she added.
“We are very optimistic about the service it will provide and our level of flexibility,” Bowie said.
Rollins said Coast officials have been talking with CCU for the past couple of years about the college transitioning to its own service. He said the 15 staffers who run the campus routes will transition over to the airport and entertainment shuttles, the latter of which takes riders to popular tourist destinations like the SkyWheel and Broadway at the Beach.
Horry County Councilman Gary Loftus, who serves on the Coast RTA board of directors, said he’s not sure how the loss of CCU will affect the mass transit system financially.
Rollins said CCU’s ridership was 500,000 annually, and Loftus doesn’t think the airport shuttle will generate the revenue that the college service did.
Still, Loftus said the airport shuttle can be looked at as an opportunity.
“It’s not a bad idea,” he said.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_bdickerson.