The Coast Regional Transportation Authority surely has had its problems over the years but the board now has a window of opportunity to find a leader and develop a strategy that will make public transportation a reliable alternative for tourists and residents.
The opportunity comes following the dismissal of Myers Rollins Jr. as Coast RTA’s chief executive officer after nearly nine years of service. The termination clearly was related to Rollins’ job performance and particularly to a failed bus shelter program. Two members of the RTA board voted against terminating Rollins’ employment and suggested racial overtones in the action. The two dissenters are persons of color as are Rollins and Mickey James, a board member who voted with the majority.
James, president of the Myrtle Beach chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, deserves a lot of credit for speaking plainly about any suggested racism. We imagine James may have taken some flack for his vote and saying upfront: “It doesn’t matter who is in charge. To me, race doesn’t really matter.’’ James has been a supporter of Rollins but he, like others, was displeased with the bus shelter program which he called “very flawed.’’
Coast RTA faces paying back $324,000 to the S.C. Department of Transportation which canceled the shelter program in 2013 because of lack of progress. Board chairman Bernard Silverman cites the failed program as the direct cause of Rollins’ dismissal; Silverman also points out Rollins “had all kinds of problems ... with zoning and underground wires, and I don’t completely fault him for it.’’
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Indeed, in their oversight roles, board members share at least some of the responsibility in the shelters mess.
And to be fair, Rollins accomplished much since being hired as the Coast RTA in 2005, most notably fixing many of the authority’s financial problems. He quickly turned around a projected deficit of $750,000; he negotiated purchase of low-cost quality used buses from larger transit authorities; added the now popular trolleys; introduced bus service to Myrtle Beach International Airport. Rollins also helped convince voters and the Horry County Council of dedicated funding for Coast by means of a slight property tax.
So the circumstances of Rollins’ departure is nothing like that of the situation with the previous chief executive, Benedict Shogaolu, who pleaded guilty to and served prison sentences for felony public corruption.
But whatever the back-stories, supporting and maintaining a reliable public transit system is critical to this area’s future.
Besides the Horry County funding, Coast RTA receives tax dollars from the city of Myrtle Beach and smaller amounts from Georgetown County and the city of Conway. Operating in a tourism economy, Coast RTA is unique in serving an area of 15 million tourists annually. In addition to transporting visitors, Coast RTA has a responsibility to get workers to their jobs and others, especially the area’s growing senior population, to their medical appointments.
A viable transit system should be about more than serving folks without cars and tourists. Public transportation can help improve the overall quality of life by saving motor fuel and reducing traffic congestion and parking problems. Obviously, Coast RTA can and should do more.
The RTA should have continued support from the four local governments -- and more. A case in point: North Myrtle Beach needs to consider financial support to extend bus routes in the North Strand.
The Coast RTA board must look to successful public transit entities for its nwe leadership. Operating a bus system like Coast has its complications, to be sure, but public transportation works in other places and there is no reason we can’t model their best practices.
Transit can, and must be better here on the Grand Strand.