Matt Simon, 41, has a passion for driving. He says he loves to drive so much that he would drive for free. Thankfully for him, he gets paid to do just that. Formerly a taxi driver, Simon is now a fixed route operator for the Coast RTA, and has recently celebrated his one-year anniversary with the local bus transit company.
“I liked their buses and I like driving big things,” he says. “For numerous years I saw them riding around and I always wanted to drive for them.” A couple of years ago he put in an application and was hired last year. “They gave me a chance and I jumped on it.”
Born and raised in Lamar, Simon moved to the Grand Strand 17 years ago and chose Murrells Inlet because of its laid-back charm and sense of community.
“Lamar is a small town, and everybody goes back and forth to work in Florence,” he says. “Long story short, Myrtle Beach was a bigger area – and my ex and me pretty much moved up this way to seek better employment.” He is a graduate of Lamar High School, and is quick to talk up his alma mater. “That’s like the super high school there – like the Pittsburgh Steelers are to football.”
A typical workday for Simon begins after he makes the 45-minute drive from Murrells Inlet to Conway to pick up his bus. “I make the haul to Myrtle Beach, start my route at the transfer center, which is located across from the police department. I drive from there, down Ocean Boulevard to [Grand Strand Regional Medical Center] at 82nd Avenue North – stay there for about five minutes, then turn around and come back. That’s my haul throughout the day.” This goes on from 7:15 a.m. and he is usually done at 2 p.m.
Sometimes Simon is called on to drive what is known as the Georgetown Express [or Route 16 Express], which runs between Georgetown and Myrtle Beach. “I normally start at 79th Avenue and go down to Georgetown or Andrews.”
Is mass transit in Myrtle Beach becoming a viable option for locals?
“It’s changed a lot,” he says. “With newer buses and getting the routes tighter – and advertising – getting more people to ride the bus versus driving a car. Think about it. Coming into Myrtle Beach from Conway or Georgetown is only a $1.50. You can barely go to the gas station for a $1.50.” He adds that each transfer is only a quarter.
Driving a cab allowed Simon to master the lay of the land. “I learned a lot of ins and outs of Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand. I know a lot of different back roads that a lot of people don’t know about – and different places that people want to go.”
Now this experience allows him to help bus riders. “I’m pretty much like a travel consultant. I can give tourists advice about where to go, like, ‘this is where it’s at – if you want to eat, this is the best restaurant. If you want to go out and dance, go to Broadway tonight – if you want to relax, grab a couple of chairs – this is a nice part of the beach where you won’t have to worry about too much craziness.’”
We asked Simon if he has encountered any strange or funny situations while driving for the Coast RTA.
“I pretty much have a smooth day. You have some wild things here and there, with people getting a little out of control, but I don’t really have to worry about that. Most of the people on my bus are either trying to go to work or trying to go home. If somebody gets out of control, the other riders are going to calm it down. I don’t have to step into the picture.”
Simon, a father of three, is sure to take advantage of his down time – sometimes on two wheels by way of his Suzuki Volusia.
“I do some fishing here and there, and enjoy family time with the kids.”
A favorite family spot is Captain George’s Seafood restaurant in Myrtle Beach. “The kids love it there, plus there are 175 different items you can eat. I’m a pretty big boy, so you know…”
To Simon, Murrells Inlet, although a coastal town, has the same feel as Lamar. “That’s why I moved here and stayed in this area. I was born and raised in a nice laid-back town, and Murrells Inlet is a laid-back town, too. I’m just loving it.”
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