By Theresa Stratford for The Island Connection
During the peak summer months, it’s safe to say that beach communities in general experience parking issues, and Seabrook Island is no exception. At the Seabrook Island City Council meeting on March 22, City Administrator Joe Cronin announced that he had been approached by the Seabrook Island Club to consider joining them in a joint venture, with the Seabrook Island Property Owners Association, for the purchase of a shuttle to service the island during the peak summer months. Cronin said the idea for a shuttle is in direct response to overflow parking issues at the Club and the beach. The shuttle would run from June 12 to August 12 or 19. It would run from Sunday to Friday each week, with the exception of Saturday. Cronin said Saturday was omitted from the schedule because it is the crossover day for outbound and inbound rentals. The shuttle would run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and would have several stops around the island.
Each entity – the City, SIPOA and the Club – would contribute approximately $20,000 for a shuttle, the cost of which is estimated at approximately $60,000. “If we had two shuttles, it would cost around $35,000 per entity depending on service length and hours.” Cronin explained that if the city wanted to participate in this service, they could use the state or county lodging tax, which would require them to prove both a tourism impact and a public purpose. The impact on tourism would be evident since the shuttle would operate during the peak summer months, which is the highest concentration of tourism on the island. Cronin mentioned that the public utility requirement may be more difficult to meet for Seabrook Island. He said it would take more than just fixing a parking problem.
Cronin suggested the shuttle should serve visitors and the public outside the gate, such as the Bohicket Marina, the condos there, and other areas within the city limits, but within the outside of the door. Cronin also explained that the City has the budget to participate in this service if the Council wanted it. He said they could use the money from the fund balance or if they opted for State A tax or County A tax they also had it there, but that would have to be approved . “We will have to show the impact of tourism and the public utility,” he reiterated. He also noted that the lodging tax money must be used within two years. “There may be something else you want to use that money for, like road improvements, but that’s something to consider.” No decision has been made by Council following Cronin’s presentation of a possible Seabrook Island shuttle service, but Cronin said they needed to consider whether it was something that they might want to sue. Council member Dan Kortvelesy said that a few years ago, SIPOA considered a shuttle service similar to that offered by Hilton Head Island. He said they traveled there to study the service and see if something similar might work on Seabrook Island.
Brian Sullivan, director of marketing and communications for the Lowcountry Regional Transportation Authority in Bluffton, shared that Hilton Head Island uses a trolley called The Breeze Trolley. The Breeze Trolley operates seven days a week on Hilton Head from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, including holidays. Their season runs from April 9 to Labor Day. Sullivan explained that the service is on two connecting fixed routes with published stops and times. It serves each stop approximately every 30 minutes. The Breeze Trolley can accommodate 28 seated passengers and suspension straps for standing passengers. They even have two spaces for wheelchair safety/mobility devices. They run three carts at any time.
Sullivan said the streetcar service was a direct result of a traffic study in conjunction with the City of Hilton Head. They had limited parking, building congestion and there was a steady increase in the island’s popularity. Their service started in July 2018.
The Breeze Trolley on Hilton Head is funded by the Federal Transit Administration with local matching provided by the City of Hilton Head Island – this includes labor, fuel, capital, marketing, planning, maintenance and administration.