The Myrtle Beach Police Department quietly stopped lending out free specialty wheelchairs for the beach over a year ago, after suspending the service because of COVID, making it the only coastal Horry County municipality to not offer the service.
While city leaders said the program was an additional perk similar to police directing traffic, disability advocates say they believe the move could keep people off the beach because of the expense of renting or purchasing the beach wheelchairs.
Although Myrtle Beach officials, including city manager Jonathan “Fox” Simons, Jr. and city spokesperson Mark Kruea, said discontinuing the rental program would save money, neither could immediately provide figures on exactly how much. Also unknown is how often the wheelchairs were used.
Kruea wrote in an email that the program “did not have a designated cost … It was a service, just like directing traffic at school zones.”
Information about the now-discontinued service was scrubbed from the police department website following the Sun News’ inquiry into the program.
Standard wheelchairs sink in the soft sand, so beach wheelchairs, with their large tires, allow wheelchair users to traverse the beach. Without the free program, visitors can choose between a multi-day rental from private companies — from $30-50 a day — or buying a beach wheelchair, at an average cost of $2,500, according to the owner of Wheelchairs and Scooters of Myrtle Beach.
Before spring 2020, the Myrtle Beach Police Department dropped off and picked up beach wheelchairs free of charge for use on municipal beaches on a first-come first-served basis. City officials said the program, which started in the ‘90s, had around six wheelchairs.
The city also tried to axe the program in 2016, but reversed its decision within a few days after receiving calls and emails from residents. At the time,