Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Jim Elekes is a driven man both by choice and by necessity.
An insulin-dependent diabetic since he was 8, today Elekes, who will turn 55, is totally blind, uses a hearing aid, has undergone open heart surgery and has had a kidney transplant. But that has not stopped him from running a consulting business from his Murrells Inlet home, which he shares with his service dog, Irma, nor has it slowed his efforts in public policy with an emphasis on transportation. He spent more than a dozen years as a member of the New Jersey Transit board.
When he moved to South Carolina in 2006, he did not leave his activism behind. He's been a tireless volunteer for the disabled, and has used his public policy skills to assist in ensuring ADA guidelines are met.
He also offered to serve on boards or commission when needed, providing his extensive resume to his adopted state, and offering his services. On Friday, he heard that his offer was accepted.
Wednesday, Elekes will be sworn in as a the newest member of the nine-member board of directors for Coast RTA, the first multiple-disabled person to join the board.
“Transportation has been an aspect of everything I've done in public policy work,” Elekes said, adding that he's looking forward to the opportunity and the challenges of working with Coast RTA, which serves Georgetown and Horry counties.
He joins the board while the organization is under fire from the Horry County Council, which has threatened to withhold about $268,000 in funding unless the county gains three seats on the board, increasing its oversight. The current board includes membership from Georgetown, the county and the legislative delegation to the General Assembly.
Elekes smiled but would not comment on the issue. Rather, his first step, he said, is to study the binders that explain the workings of the board.
But that doesn't mean he will waste time. “I've learned in 33 years of disability that the first thing you look at is 'how am I going to get there and how am I going to get back’,” he said, adding that he is not unlike other disabled people in that respect.
While he plans to keep the disabled front and center, he also realizes the distinctive challenges faced by Coast RTA and the Grand Strand community.
“You have 10,000 baby boomers a day retiring, and we're a retirement community,” he said.
Closer to home, his goals are to increase public awareness of mass transit in general, to build the ridership of Coast RTA by vacationers and to look at ways to connect the Grand Strand with neighboring communities such as Wilmington, N.C.; Charleston and Florence.
“We need a more inclusive and diverse transportation package to serve the area,” he said, noting that in his mind the transportation package includes buses, taxis and other modes of public transportation.
The other issue is the sheer size of Horry, the largest county in the state, and at 1,255 square miles, larger in area than Rhode Island.
He sees challenges and opportunities coming, too, with the implementation of Obamacare affecting the needs of more veterans to get to appointments in Charleston and the Grand Strand; of the 18- to 25-year-olds who because of the economy are not as likely to hop into cars; and an increasing awareness of the effect of automobiles on the environment.
But he's also a realist. He acknowledges that he is not above using cars to get from Point A to Point B.
“This area is not like the northeast, where the transit options include trains, buses and taxis. “I can get to within 18 miles of my parents' house using the train when I fly back to New Jersey. From the train station, I can take a cab or wait for someone to pick me up.” He's not complaining about his home, he's being realistic.
He also has the time, because he runs his own consulting business, to take a bus to an appointment in Columbia, a 3-hour car ride that takes half a day by public transport — too long for the average person.
Wherever he goes, Irma, his black Lab service dog, is by his side or leading the way. She even has her own ID on US Air.
Note: Coast Rapid Transit Authority (RTA) serves Horry and Georgetown counties with bus service provided by 50 vehicles. State and federal funding is supplemented by matching funds from both counties and the cities of Myrtle Beach and Conway.
By Anita Crone
For The Times