By Paul Gable
The Select Committee on Coast RTA members have until Friday to come up with preliminary statements for consideration in the committee’s final report.
Charged with assessing the failures of a shelter and sign project and an intermodal center project, the committee must conclude whether the failures of the projects point to systemic problems within the management of the agency. It must also make a recommendation on future funding of the transportation agency by Horry County Council.
During its third meeting April 21st, the committee concentrated on new information received over the last two weeks about an Intergovernmental Agreement with the City of Myrtle Beach, a resolution by the Coast RTA board, the Coast RTA/SCDOT shelter project contract and a contract between Tolar Mfg. and Coast RTA for the shelters and associated equipment.
The shelter project takes up most of the time of the committee because it stretched over nine years, beginning as the agency was attempting to recover from previous management failures in the 2003-04 time frame..
According to a statement to the committee by Coast RTA General Manager Myers Rollins, during the April 7th meeting of the committee, in 2005 he identified the need for Coast RTA to transition to fixed routes with designated stops and shelters.
However, Rollins also indicated to his board that in order for them to enjoy any success with the shelter program, they had to identify, receive, and maintain stable dedicated funding. In the absence of that, Rollins said they would find it very difficult to install shelters and signage throughout the service area because they would be closing routes and opening new ones.
Firm designated routes and consistent dedicated funding were not a feature of Coast RTA when the shelter project was first considered in 2005 and they are only marginally better now.
It would seem Coast RTA should have concentrated on guaranteeing the availability of dedicated funding on a year to year basis so it could have established firm, fixed routes before involving itself in a bus shelter project. Instead, it appears to have grabbed $1 million in federal funding for a shelter project just because it was available.
Stable fixed routes and stable dedicated funding were not in place in 2005 but Coast RTA went ahead with the shelter project anyway. Based on Rollins’ own statement to the committee, the project was apparently doomed to failure from its outset.
In Rollins’ presentation to the committee, he said the shelter project was hindered throughout by the “roller coaster” funding Coast RTA experienced leading to the cancellation of routes and associated shelter locations throughout the years.
To complicate the situation, Rollins mixed the desire of the City of Myrtle Beach to provide shelters for students waiting for school buses with Coast’s desire for shelters for its passengers.
A resolution from the Coast RTA board, permitting the purchase of shelters, and a contract between Coast RTA and SCDOT, outlining the terms and conditions of the shelter project, both state the shelters were for public transportation passengers. Yet, 10 of the purchased shelters went for the private use of Horry County Public Schools students and were not placed in locations on Coast RTA bus routes.
Furthermore, an Intergovernmental Agreement between Coast RTA and the City of Myrtle Beach states that the city would issue a check payable to Coast RTA for $50,000. In turn, Coast RTA agreed to apply an equal amount ($50,000) from its capital funds to apply to the purchase of shelters, benches, waste receptacles and other related materials and supplies.
Instead, Rollins told the committee the $50,000 went into the operating account of Coast RTA to be used for operating expenses of the agency.
Coast RTA did not adhere to the provisions stated in the board resolution, the SCDOT contract or the Intergovernmental Agreement with Myrtle Beach while continuing to pursue what appears to have been an ill-advised project.
In the nine years since the $1 million grant was first awarded to Coast RTA, 73 shelters were purchased, five were installed for use by Coast RTA riders and 10 were installed for the restricted use of Horry County Public Schools students only. The total amount of funds spent on the project is approximately $462,000.
SCDOT cancelled the project in December 2013 for lack of substantial progress. In March 2014, SCDOT informed Coast RTA it would have to pay back approximately $328,000 of the funds spent on the failed project. Since SCDOT only recently realized that 10 of the shelters were not installed for use by Coast RTA passengers, there may be more repayment due, according to the state agency.
Whether the mishandling of the shelter project indicates larger problems within the Coast RTA management remains to be decided by the committee. But, it does seem strange that nine years after identifying the need for long term dedicated financing and firm, fixed routes little progress has been made toward these goals.