MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A family on vacation in Myrtle Beach learned beach wheelchairs are no longer being made available free of charge.
Now, those wheelchairs must be rented.
According to Myrtle Beach Police Department Lt. Joey Crosby, a decision was made between city management and the police department to privatize the renting of the beach wheelchairs.
That came as a surprise to a Knoxville, Tenn., family, who said they checked the city's website and made calls prior to traveling to Myrtle Beach.
The family was informed the wheelchairs were free of charge, but when they arrived and tried to ask a lifeguard for access to the chair, they were told the service was no longer available.
"We went to the lifeguard station to find out where we needed to get one, only to discover that they were no longer doing that," Tami Greene said.
Greene said her son, Landen, 19, suffers from cerebral palsy. He graduated from high school last week, and his family planned a vacation to Myrtle Beach.
"You make plans that you are going to spend a couple days at the beach, and then all of a sudden you can't do that," Greene added.
The beach wheelchairs are made of PVC pipe and the wheels are wide, making it easier to roll in the sand.
"It is a type of equipment most families do not have, and our wheelchairs will not roll in the sand," Greene said.
Crosby said the wheelchairs fall under community services, a division whose officers have been stretched thin answering service calls for beach wheelchairs, a reason he said they decided to privatize the service.
"Over time, the chairs were coming back in poor condition and the repairs were becoming too costly," Crosby said.
He added the decision was made on Friday, May 20. The department is working on crafting a message for its website and Facebook page to notify visitors and residents about the change.
Greene said the lifeguard told her the chairs could be rented from a private company for $45 a day.
"Forty-five dollars a day. That's several hundred dollars, and a lot of us don't have that put away for a vacation," she said.
Greene added she and her husband started aggressively making calls to city and state leaders, expressing their frustration.
"Everyone I spoke to, they all were very empathetic to what we were going through, so we greatly appreciate that. No one said, Too bad, so sad," Greene said.
Soon after speaking with a spokesperson from the city, a representative from the police department delivered a chair without a fee and apologized for the inconvenience. Greene said she was thankful, but concerned about what will happen to other families.
"We had a happy ending and I am so grateful for that, but what about the other gentleman we bumped into down on the beach, who had the same situation we did?" Greene said.
The concerned mother said she really wished the city would reconsider their decision.
"It is not a little decision," Greene said. "Some planning needs to go into this. Those of us who have someone with disabilities in our families, we understand the cost. We understand the cost of maintenance. We're not crazy and unreasonable."
She also encouraged city leaders to think about the ripple effect it could have on tourism in Myrtle Beach.
"If the city no longer has this available, it could have a ripple effect," Greene said. "I mean, when you are talking about the United Cerebral Palsy, Wounded Warriors, people with strokes, we're talking a large amount of the population, and this would make Myrtle Beach no longer a destination for people to come to."