By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
After more than four decades in the public transit business, Chuck MacNeil has disembarked his last bus, so to speak, and retired as executive director of Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority (PDRTA).
MacNeil received a notable honor last week as Francis Marion University and the (Florence) Morning News awarded him the Marion Medallion for his years of service to the community.
“I’m not worthy. Those are the first words that come to mind,” MacNeil says, laughing and shrugging off his own accomplishments.
Those who have paid attention to the saga of PDRTA in Darlington County know better. MacNeil was instrumental in establishing and maintaining affordable public transportation which thousands of people across the region rely on every day.
Since taking over PDRTA eight years ago, MacNeil repeatedly extolled the value of busing at public meetings, worked to build partnerships with local governments and businesses, and secured funding to keep the buses rolling after the federal and state government curtailed crucial Medicaid funding.
This allowed patients on a fixed income to reach their doctors, fill their prescriptions and run errands without incurring the expense of a taxi.
After shepherding the agency through a tricky financial period, MacNeil helped establish the DART (Darlington Area Regional Transport) routes and teamed with Genesis Health Care to expand busing into Lamar, which opened access to shopping, health care, employment and education for many rural residents.
PDRTA now serves approximately 260,000 riders – a fact that should make a busing advocate like MacNeil quite proud.
Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts, MacNeil’s first foray into public transportation was a matter of necessity: as a student at the University of Massachusetts, he had to pay his own way and needed a job.
“As fate would have it, I found that the student campus bus system was hiring, and they would teach people how to get a bus driver’s license. To me, that seemed more intriguing than flipping burgers or pumping gas, so I went for it,” MacNeil recalls.
He drove buses all through college and wound up learning the transit system from the wheels up, including procurement procedures, grant writing, maintenance, and administration. MacNeil says that he enjoyed the work so much that although he graduated with a degree in biology, he chose to pursue a career in public transit instead.
“Evidently it was the right move because here I am retiring 45 years later,” he says. “I tell everybody it must have been the smell of the diesel fumes.”
MacNeil and his wife moved to South Carolina eight years ago after visiting the state on vacation. They were so charmed by the laid back (and markedly warmer) southern climate that they purchased a home in Bluffton, where the MacNeils will now reside.
But just because he’s retired doesn’t mean that Chuck is out to pasture; he’s already planning a consulting business to help other organizations face and surmount their own challenges, just as he managed to do during his tenure with PDRTA.
“You want to be challenged in life…everybody wants to figure out problems,” says MacNeil. “But we’ve gotten to a place where it’s a good time to hand the football off.”