Transportation Authority considers new services

Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority launched its Johnsonville-Pamplico-Florence service in December, Executive Director Don Strickland said. Strickland updated the Florence County Council on the transportation authority's routes, new buses and possible new services at the County Council meeting Thursday. "We have a lot of great things going on right now," he said.

The Johnsonville-Pamplico-Florence route runs Monday, Wednesday and Friday. People are using the route to get to work at MUSC, Strickland said. LakeTran is a commuter service that includes Lake City, Johnsonville, Conway and Myrtle Beach.

Strickland said 65 percent of the people using LakeTran are senior citizens. The transportation authority is providing a vital service to that area, he said. The authority is considering a route to the Lake City-Cades area because MUSC is building on 40 acres on Highway 52 about 4 miles south of Lake City.

The hospital is slated to open in 2023.

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Several stakeholders are willing to commit funding for that service, he said. "Our main concern is how close we are going to be able to get there to be able to navigate to Lake City and back to Florence," he said. "We are working with several different industries. We think it is something we are going to be able to pull off this year."

The authority also is receiving many calls from the Timmonsville area about service to Florence, he said. "It's something we will try to revisit," he said. "I don't think that's going to end up five days a week, 12-hours a day or anything, but if it was a service, it could be a Monday, Wednesday and Friday to give folks options to get to where they need to get to." A park-and-ride service is being considered for the 327-business center, which is home to Ruiz Food, Pepsi-Cola of Florence, Pee Dee Food Service and others.

Several industries have contacted the transportation authority, saying they are going to hire more employees, Strickland said. People in the Johnsonville-Pamplico or Effingham areas would be able to park their vehicles in secure facilities and take a bus to and from their jobs, he said. "Instead of paying the £4 and whatever it was per gallon, you would be able to drive a mile from your house, park your vehicle and be able to take the bus to work every day," he said.

The authority also is considering a van-pool program. A request for proposals should published soon, he said. Van pools provide transportation options to seven-or-eight people who work in the same area of the city.

Van pools typically operate twice a day. What happens if there is an emergency at school or home? The authority is working to obtain federal funding to guarantee a ride home in emergencies, he said.

"If a kid gets sick at school or something, and the parent has to go to take care of that, we will have a guaranteed ride home program," Strickland said. "So within 30 minutes of getting that call, we will have someone there to pick them up and take them to that trip and get them home. We will use federal, state and local funds to make that happen." The transportation authority is planning a study for its current route structure because of all the growth in recent years, he said.

A feasibility study will give the authority a better idea of how to serve its communities and riders, he said. The study should be conducted in the upcoming fiscal year. In the next few years, the authority hopes to increase its operating hours in Florence.

Its service hours are 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Strickland said he hopes to increase operating hours until at least 9 p.m. and maybe later. "We do have a lot of folks on the second shift that are going to work.

They take us to get there, but they are having to taxi or walk or find another way home. That's something we do plan to do," Strickland said. The authority also is awaiting delivery of nine new buses.

Shipping problems have slowed bus delivery, he said.

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