Coast RTA CEO meets with riders, politicians in annual Ride with the GM tour

A woman gets on the Coast RTA trolley Wednesday at Landmark Resort on Ocean Boulevard and wants to get to Chapin Memorial Library. She looks lost and confused.

Lucky for her, a few rows down the trolley is Myers Rollins, CEO and general manager of Coast RTA, who helps identify for her where she should get off the bus to get closest to the library. In return, she shares a few suggestions of how to make the trip less confusing for those who are new or are just visiting the area. It’s precisely what Rollins was looking for as he set out on his annual Ride with the GM bus trips, which kicked off Wednesday. The tour continues Friday in unincorporated Horry County and Monday in the Georgetown County area.

“This is actually one of my favorite times of the year because it really gives us an opportunity to put a face on the organization,” Rollins said Wednesday morning, from a bus running the 15 South route. He was joined by Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes and later by Councilman Randal Wallace. “We could talk to our stakeholders about some of the things that we do, but to bring them out, get them on the bus and let them see how their tax dollars are at work is just great.”

Myrtle Beach spends about $365,000 annually to help fund the transit service.

Rollins said one of the suggestions he received from riders is a request for more frequent routes, which he said would increase ridership, but would also cost more money. Wednesday’s Ride with the GM also allowed Rollins to let riders know about upcoming changes at Coast, including some buses getting televisions on them to increase advertising opportunities, as well as incorporating a trolley in the Myrtle Beach Express route to and from Broadway at the Beach because of the trolley’s popularity among tourists.

He said Wednesday’s ride, as well as the ones planned for Friday and Monday, will help dispel myths people have about public transportation. He said the tours will show that Coast RTA provides clean, safe buses that are air-conditioned and on time.

Councilman Wallace said he was impressed with the tour.

“I’m a believer in mass transit,” Wallace said. “That’s what makes a city functional. Getting on [the bus] and seeing how well it works is important. You have a lot of folks here that need to use it to get to work, and making that as easy for them to do is pretty important.

“You’re a town of 23,000 and you’re servicing 15 million people a year. You have to make sure people can get to where they need to go.”

Rollins said he looks forward to meeting more riders Friday and spend some time with Horry County Councilmen, who have received an open invitation to ride.

Chairmen of the Coast RTA board and the County Council tried to coordinate an open house in November to improve communication between the agency and the county, but it was cancelled due to a report not being prepared. This will be the first coordinated effort to bring councilmen on the bus since that effort.

“The real focus of the open house was to have a discussion with our county leadership to talk about shared goals and things that we think we can do to improve the quality of our service and, again, let them visually see the added value that we bring to the community,” Rollins said. “We look forward to having them on the bus and having that dialogue with them, and talking about our plans to grow the system.”

Friday’s visit with councilmen comes at a time when a committee appointed by Council Chairman Mark Lazarus is examining the transit’s role in two botched federal programs that cost Coast more than $324,000. Horry County Council is expected to consider the committee’s findings before it decides if it will fund the transit the more than $1 million it allocates annually to Coast.

Rollins said he is excited to get on the Georgetown route Monday because of its increasing popularity.

“We actually want to build a hub at the corner of Duke and Hazard to improve the quality of the wait,” Rollins said. “Our Georgetown service is quickly becoming as popular as our Myrtle Beach service.”

The Sun News’ Janet Blackmon Morgan contributed to this report.