First SC Rural Transit Day

First SC Rural Transit Day

Monday, July 24th, marked the first Rural Transit Day celebration in South Carolina.

The purpose behind SC Rural Transit Day is to advocate for our SC rural communities, focusing on their unique transportation needs and building connections that remediate disparities and inequities within these areas.

Throughout the day-long event, we heard from elected officials, organizations, stakeholders and transit leaders on the topic of rural transportation, the opportunity it provides and the benefits it has on our community and our economy.

This year, the primary focus areas were Darlington County (Tourism), Marlboro County (Healthcare) and Dillon County (Industry). 

PHOTOS: South Carolina Rural Transit Day at the Florence Center (

First Stop: Florence Center

During the welcome session at the Florence Center, Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin with the City of Florence, shared her memories as a little girl of riding the bus to the Florence Mall. She explained, during that time, she and her mother relied on public transportation to get around. She recognized PDRTA's recent growth, looking forward to seeing more from PDRTA "a staple to our Florence County community."

Jerry Yarborough with Florence County Council recognized the complexities involved in providing public transportation. Yarborough spoke on PDRTA's recent route expansion, Timmonsville Express, a new, fare free fixed route service in Timmonsville, SC connecting to Florence, SC. He added, "as the cost of vehicles and repairs continue to increase, public transportation is becoming a more vital part of our infrastructure for work, recreation and pleasure. Laying a foundation for years to come."

Kevin Yokim, Florence County Administrator, remembered his childhood, growing up in a small town being the last stop when riding the bus. He shared, the word that comes to mind when he thinks of rural transit is opportunity, opportunity for the whole of Pee Dee. "One of largest initiatives is economic development and PDRTA provides a vital role…for the entire Pee Dee."

Rising Costs of Vehicles

Senator Mike Reichenbach, District 31, provided two numbers $33,000 and $50,000. These costs are the current national average prices of used and new vehicles. Senator Reichenbach asked, "If you cannot afford a vehicle at $33,000 to $50,000, how do you get to work? Get your kids to school? Get to medical treatment? How do you get groceries? How do you live your life?”

Pictured: Senator Mike Reichenbach, District 31 speaking at The Florence Center for SC Rural Transit Day 2023

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Keith Scott, Co-Chair of Upstate Mobility Alliance added that on average it takes another $10,500 annually to own, maintain and insure a vehicle.

Don Strickland, PDRTA Executive Director, shared that many passengers riding with PDRTA do not have a vehicle. “Everybody here, I’m sure you have a set of car keys, or two, or three…but a lot of times, these folks don’t.”

In PDRTA's recent 2023 passenger survey data, 67% answered that a vehicle was not available to them for their trip. When asked their most important reason for riding with PDRTA, 41% responded, no car in the household.

Not owning a vehicle is just one of many reasons why people rely on public transportation. Another 24%, said their most important reason they ride with PDRTA is the convenience of riding the bus. Ranking third, 22% answered their most important reason to ride the bus is because they do not drive.

Transportation and Co-Occurring Needs

Moving into panel discussions, topics dove into our aging community, equal access to healthcare and workforce transportation. Panelists shared their answers through the lens of their organization, examining the co-occurring need of transportation to access other services. The panelists shared the opinion of the importance interagency cooperation has on providing rural and public transportation services.

Panelists: Graham Adams, CEO of SC Office of Rural Health; Doug Frate, Director of Intermodal Transit and Freight of SC Department of Transportation; Connie Munn, Director of South Carolina Department on Aging; William Floyd, Director of South Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce

Aging Population

By 2040, one in five Americans will be 65 or older, increasing the need for long-term, consistent healthcare and mobility independence. With this complexity of caring for an aging population, it is vital that we are proactive in allocating resources to connect our seniors with access to the care and needs that they have.

Connie Munn, Director of South Carolina Department on Aging, shared that their goal as an agency is to "ensure older adults have access to service to improve their life" she added that "a huge part of that is transportation."

Access to Health

Graham Adams, CEO of SC Office of Rural Health stated, "there are currently 10 counties in South Carolina without hospitals", and that the" barriers to healthcare in those counties are quite a problem." The SC Office of Rural Health advocates and is a resource for healthcare in rural communities. The "social determinants for healthcare are broad", he added, but "transportation is a priority" for the organization when working with rural communities.

Workforce Transportation

Panelist William Floyd, Director of SC DEW, recognized transportation as an "integral part of the workforce." Floyd continued that another large part of connecting job seekers with employment is through communication about future opportunities. With existing jobs and new industries, Floyd said, the state needs to continue investing in public transportation to connect workers with job opportunities.

Doug Frate, Director of Intermodal Transit and Freight of SCDOT, said one of the main reasons people leave work is transportation barriers, impacting our communities. Transportation is part of our state's future and citizens depend on it, Frate said, transportation also "sustains growth, especially in rural."

For our rural communities, there is a critical need to provide such transportation due to a lack of diversified jobs and fewer employment opportunities within those areas. With 44% of PDRTA ridership commuting to and from work, connecting the rural counties that we serve plays a vital role to the economic development in the Pee Dee. By crossing county lines, offering dedicated and reliable workforce transportation routes, PDRTA broadens recruitment opportunities for rural communities.

Rural Expeditions

Concluding the morning session, participants ventured into three separate rural tours exploring the benefits of transportation in each area.

Tourism: Darlington County 

The group touring Darlington County set off for The Edition in Hartsville for a lunch presentation with community leaders, hosted by Byerly Foundation.

Brianna Douglas with Byerly Foundation, spoke about the connection PDRTA provides in the Hartsville community, the complex challenges and how it takes a collaborative effort to solve. "We must ensure that PDRTA's financial sustainability is very strong well into the future for many years to come,” said Douglas.

Byerly Foundation presented PDRTA a $240,000 check as a recipient of their grant awarded June 2023."We are a small town, with a big heart, but from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for your commitment to this transformation in our community,” said Douglas.

The funds from the check will provide 12 new, covered bus shelters in Hartsville, SC, and an on-demand/ADA accessible service.

Pictured: Mary Mack, Board Chair Carefirst Carolina Foundation; Brianna Douglas, Executive Director Byerly Foundation; Linda Weatherford, Board Chair Byerly Foundation; Don Strickland, Executive Director PDRTA: Lauren Leonard, Executive Assistant & PIO PDRTA; James Jackson, PDRTA Board Member

From here, the group departed for a guided tour through Hartsville before arriving at Darlington Raceway to tour the museum, hear from Darlington Community leaders and a special infield experience.

Healthcare: Marlboro County 

A second group began their tour with a lunch at Bennettsville’s Community Center, where participants heard about the impacts of rural transportation in Marlboro County from speakers Representative Henegan, Mayor Carolyn Prince and Kyle Wagner, President of NETC.

The group toured the McColl, SC CareSouth facility with CareFIRST Carolina Foundation Director, Mark Sobiski. The visit showcased their partnership with PDRTA, that brings patients to their door for medical services in their Marlboro, Chesterfield, Darlington and Dillon facilities.

Industry: Dillon County

The third group met at Harbor Freight, where the General Manager, Terence Anderson, shared about their partnership with PDRTA to provide workforce transportation. Anderson shared that Harbor Freight, repeatedly heard from employees about the transportation gap in getting to work. He stated that the partnership with PDRTA "is a key initiative to help us grow in this area." Their hope is to share the model with other businesses coming into this area, to work together and to support each other. "The impact that work transportation has, extends beyond an individual to their families they support and the community they live in" said Anderson.

Jamal Campbell County Council, thanked PDRTA for employing citizens and keeping the county moving, stating that "PDRTA plays a tremendous part in Dillon County." Campbell rode along on PDRTA’s Passenger Appreciation Week and urged everyone to do the same and to encourage people to use the services.

After touring Harbor Freight, the Dillon tour visited the Dillon Inland Port before returning to join the other groups. 

Building Bridges for Healthier Communities

When considering resources like healthcare, wellness and opportunity, transportation is the key to enabling a person’s ability to access resources and maintain their independence. Building bridges to rural communities lacking such resources and services with transportation takes creative solutions, commitment and partnerships.

SC Inaugural Rural Transit Day hosted in Florence | News | 

Last Stop: Lake City

The day concluded in Lake City, where SC Rural Transit Day participants were welcomed at Moore Farms Botanical Gardens for an evening wine stroll before the reception at The Stables venue located at the Inn at the Crossroads.

Here, Lake City native, Darla Moore, shared that transportation for her holds a special place in her heart for what it provides to seniors. She shared that "there is no one answer to revitalize, to reinvent rural communities,” but that "transportation is a critical piece."

Brooke Knotts, with First Bank, shared that supporting rural transportation means "more independent, successful and goal-oriented individuals. People that we can help meet those goals and reach financial independence and wellness."

Next Up

At PDRTA, we are grateful for the partnerships and support that enable us to provide vital connections from rural communities to resources like, access to healthcare, employment and educational opportunities, financial wellness and recreational activities.

We are passionate about continuing our growth and success stories while connecting our Pee Dee Region, counties of Florence, Darlington, Marlboro, Chesterfield, Marion and Dillon.

We are thankful to those that attended, the speakers, sponsors and partners that celebrated with us at the inaugural celebration.

Stay tuned for next year's Rural Transit Celebration - July 16, 2024, you will not want to miss it!