Chuck MacNeil honored as tireless champion of public transit in the Pee Dee

February 28, 2019 GMT

FLORENCE, S.C. – Charles “Chuck” MacNeil is a champion of public transportation and one of two 2019 Marion Medallion recipients. He is the retiring executive director of the Pee Dee Regional Transit Authority.

“I am speechless,” MacNeil said when told of the honor last month. “I am truly honored and appreciative.”

The award is presented each year by Francis Marion University and the Morning News to recognize those who give of themselves for the betterment of others.

“After the selection committee left, I sat here and thought what just happened,” he said. “Then I kept thinking when is the alarm going to go off and I will wake up. It can’t be real. This has to be a dream.

“I am truly grateful for being acknowledged, but what I do is all within the work day,” he said. “In a way, all I’m doing is my job. I hope this means I am doing my job quite well.”

And that job means finding community dollars to match federal funding for public transportation in the Pee Dee region to benefit people who lack their own means of transportation or who wish to take public transit.

“He is a good guy. I can’t image anyone more deserving based on his contributions to the community,” said Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University. “He is exactly the person whom this award was designed to honor.”

The selection committee said the community has benefited from the countless hours he has given not only to developing the transit system but also in trying to raise money to sustain it.

“To be sure, some of that falls within the parameters of your work,” said Don Kausler Jr., editor of the Morning News. “But a much greater part of it falls within the parameter of your heart to try to serve the people across this region and to give them a service that is so vitally important.”

MacNeil said the honor really belongs to the people behind the scenes who have rallied around the transportation authority.

MacNeil came from Albany, New York, where he was the head of the Albany Capital District Transportation Authority. He arrived at PRDTA in October 2011 to find inadequate local funding and the public transit system near to closing its doors.

MacNeil said local groups needed to buy into the idea of public transportation and provide additional dollars so that the agency could receive matching federal money.

He said Francis Marion University was one of the first to buy into the idea to provide transportation to its students from the main campus to FMU’s downtown facilities. The city of Florence also bought in, as did Florence-Darlington Technical College and others.

“That first year I had to determine our financial situation,” MacNeil said. “And in February 2013, I presented several spreadsheets on reducing and eliminating some services and positions to try to save the agency. The board adopted my recommendations.”

Putting the plan of action in place was “very daunting and most painful,” he said. It included letting go of about 80 employees.

“I couldn’t control the revenue coming in, so I had to control the expenses, and there was a great disparity in the two,” he said. “We were trying to sustain and grow our revenue.”

PDRTA is primarily funded by federal grants but requires matching nonfederal funds, MacNeil said. It serves six counties: Florence, Darlington, Marion, Marlboro, Chesterfield and Dillon.

“I was new to the region,” MacNeil said. “I went to Rotary, Lions and other civic clubs, city of Florence and not necessarily to ask for funding but to show the importance of local public transportation. I went to them to convince them why it is important to have these services.”

MacNeil told anyone who would listen about his ideas for safe, affordable public transportation. He showed how providing public transportation to jobs, educational opportunities and to medical services would enable people, once limited by their lack of transportation, to spend or earn money.

“We are improving their quality of life,” MacNeil said. “There is a return on our investment. They get a paycheck that they come back here to spend. The return on investment is six figures.”

As he prepares to retire at the end of the month, MacNeil says he has enjoyed mentoring people for successorship.

“I like to inspire others to do the best job that they can and be inspired to do the best job I can,” he said. “I have thoroughly enjoyed what I do. I have established a staff that is well positioned to take PDRTA to the next level.”

MacNeil said there are still things he would like to see accomplished, such as adding more buses and routes. In the spring, public transit will be added in Hartsville.

MacNeil said he is happy that he and his wife chose to move to Florence. His wife, Carol, was teaching, and during a school vacation they made a trip this direction down Interstte 95, visiting Beaufort, Charleston and a few other places.

They ended up purchasing some property in the Lowcountry, where they had visited.

“My wife declared this is where we should be,” he said. “About a year and a half later, she saw a nationally advertised job for PDRTA.”

She said it felt right and the timing was good.

“We had had a hard winter,” she said. They were living in western Massachusetts.

MacNeil is originally from Boston, Massachusetts. His wife is from New Jersey. They have a blended family of six children and four grandchildren.

“I am thrilled and so proud of what he has been able to do at PDRTA,” Carol said. “It has always been about the riders for him. They are good people who need a little help getting to work and school. He rolled up his sleeves and did the hard work.”

MacNeil said they both recognized that they spent the greater part of their lives getting an education experience so they could try to help others.

“Through the benefits of what we have been able to acquire in our blessed lives, this was the perfect setting to be able to arrive at a point where we could turn around and give, give, give and try to improve and enhance the lives of as many as we could.” MacNeil said.

He is looking forward to retirement but said he still wants to be involved in public transit in some way, perhaps as a consultant.

“I very much enjoy the game of golf,” he said. “Unfortunately, I haven’t had much free time.”

There are a few things on his ’bucket list” that he hopes to find time to do.

“I’d like to learn to play an instrument and learn another language,” he said.