Arts & Entertainment

Bachelor & Bachelorette




Food & Drink

Health & Wellness



Mayoral Thoughts



Women in Business

<   Swipe left or right   > 

Jun 26, 2024

Enjoy the Breeze!

Cheryl Ricer

Photography By

Mike Ritterbeck
Hop On, Hop Off, with Palmetto Breeze

Continue Reading

It’s nice to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s nice to have fewer vehicles on the already crowded streets. It’s nice not to have to rely on navigation. It’s nice to have a designated driver when you need one. It’s nice to share a piece of nostalgia with our kids. It’s nice to be able to visit with the family during the ride. It’s nice not to have a car full of sand after a day at the beach. It’s nice to save on my commute on and off the island to work. It’s so EASY!

And it’s FREE!

Depending on perspective, reasons why locals and visitors love hopping on and off a Palmetto Breeze trolley or bus are about as varied as the states and cities from which we hail. Regardless, though, Palmetto Breeze Transit, the regional Public Transportation Authority on Hilton Head and throughout the area, offers a valuable service that many people use to make their vacations more enjoyable, to make our roadways less crowded, and even to facilitate their livelihoods.  

As one of South Carolina’s regional transit authorities, Palmetto Breeze is a designated recipient for federal and state transportation dollars for public transportation services. Palmetto Breeze regions cover a five-county area, which includes Beaufort, Allendale, Colleton, Jasper, and Hampton counties. This large area is somewhat unique, based on the diversity of economics and community.

Quickly approaching its 50-year anniversary, Palmetto Breeze began life as the Beaufort-Jasper Regional Transportation Authority. Its initial operations were strictly commuter services to Hilton Head for “worker bees” (who would take what were then converted school buses) who lived in outlying destinations to get to and from their jobs on the island. 

Today, the commuter service remains active and is much larger. It has expanded to include moving workers not only on and off the island, but also to Bluffton and Beaufort, for one daily shift every day of the year except two – Christmas and Thanksgiving. With numerous commuter buses now running every day, transporting upwards of 250 people back and forth – some for two hours each way – the rides are much more comfortable, using charter coaches with lounge seats and air conditioning.

“Our commuter buses are now – thankfully – very comfortable because for most, it’s a long-haul route,” said Brian Sullivan, director of marketing and communications for Palmetto Breeze and the Breeze Trolley. “Some commuters will ride for two hours to get to work and then two hours home at night, which makes for a very long day.”

Sullivan said the commuter routes start early, by 7:30 or 8 a.m., in an attempt to get ahead of heavy traffic onto the island. Return trips begin at 4 p.m. 

“Many of our riders are transit dependent, relying on public transportation services for their livelihoods,” Sullivan said. “For some of our folks, in Estill, Walterboro, or Allendale, there just isn’t that much work out where they live.” 

The 2010 census catapulted the Hilton Head-Bluffton region into a new realm of geography – small urban funding, shifting Palmetto Breeze from 100% rural funding on the federal level to some important and impactful urban funding based on population. The population had grown to the point where the region now qualified for additional funds. 

Around the same time, the Town of Hilton Head Island had completed a study assessing the congestion on the island during the high season seeking solutions that didn’t require more roadways.

“Forget the bridge,” Sullivan said. “By this point in our growth, now you get to the island on those busy days and it’s already overly congested. The city conducted a ‘Circle to Circle’ study – Coligny, Greenwood, Pope – and the consensus was to incorporate seasonal public transportation. Hence, the birth of the iconic Breeze Trolley.”

The Breeze Trolley

The “trolley” concept was created to fit in with the Hilton Head vibe and Lowcountry atmosphere. While the trolleys are buses that are made to look like an old-time trolley in some way, shape, or form, they were (and are) expensive. Fortunately, as the local transit authority, Palmetto Breeze had access to extra funds due to the population of the region. 

The first season of the Breeze Trolley was launched in mid-July 2018 and ran through October and was very well received, even with the $1 per trip fare. The second season (April-September 2019) was also a success. The trolley service has continued to expand ever since. 

The Breeze Trolley launched two seasonal routes in 2021 – the Mid-Island and South Island routes. The Mid-Island is connected to the South Island route (the main trolley route) but is primarily meant to take passengers from the Folly Field Road area all the way to the west and then Coggins Point Road, connecting folks who are interested in exploring the other routes without them having to drive at all. 

Sullivan said 2021 was a watermark year for the service.

“Ridership went through the roof,” he said. “We offered free fares during COVID, and we kept free fares in 2021. The island experienced a high occupancy rate that year due to limited travel elsewhere (other states, overseas, etc.), so people discovered the trolley who had never discovered it before.” 

Getting the Word Out

Advertising is a challenge for many public service agencies, and in the case of transit, they can’t take money that should be used on maintenance or operations and put it towards magazine or billboard advertising. They rely heavily on word of mouth, social media, and partnerships. 

“We get the word out any way we can, leveraging free or very inexpensive media, whatever that may be,” Sullivan said. “Facebook and Instagram (even X) are our primary  focus from a social media standpoint. Initially, our Facebook following was about 80% regional. Then, we began promoting on Hilton Head and Lowcountry group pages, and currently we have more followers than Savannah’s entire transit authority. We are obviously proud of that because we’re just a seasonal service.”

Sullivan attributes this success partly to the obvious allure of Hilton Head and the fact that everybody treasures planning their time here. Now, about 80% of Palmetto Breeze and Breeze Trolley followers are from outside the local area. This underscores the fact that visitors want to see it in their feed, learn more about the system, and plan their trips using the Breeze.  

“This boils down to one of the basic premises of the Breeze Trolley service to begin with,” Sullivan said. “The service must prove to enhance the island experience for visitors as well as residents. With so many people from outside the area now following and using the service, we can work like a trip itinerary planning department. For example, when we see various questions come in on social media platforms, we quickly answer them to help [users] navigate how they can use the trolley to get to and from their vacation destinations without having to clog the roadways.” 

As well, the trolley vehicles themselves are nostalgic and fun for multiple generations. Kids of all ages love to see and ride the trolleys, and not only do they blend in with the island vibe, but they also act as rolling billboards for the service.  

Sullivan said that having both locals and visitors embrace the trolley has been key to the partnerships they rely on. The town of Hilton Head Island provides local match funding that is required for the Palmetto Breeze to receive federal and state funds. Without a local match, they can’t even apply for annual funds each year.  

“We cannot do this without the town’s financial support – period,” Sullivan said. “And any kind of growth, in terms of extending the season or adding routes, all must come with a commensurate increase in local match so that we can access federal and state funds. Generally, for every 20% of local funds, we get 80% federal and state funds.”

The Town of Hilton Head Island and the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce have been fantastic partners from the start, Sullivan said, not only through the financial support, but also through promotions and spreading the word. This year, along with the town and the chamber, the trolley enjoys 21 partnerships – advertisers and supporters who advertise in the Rider’s Guide, the 24-page pamphlet size brochure with all the details folks need to navigate. All the information is also available on the website. 

The Palmetto Breeze also has a sister operation called the Bluffton Breeze, which is a year-round, weekday service that circulates Bluffton Parkway, Buckwalter Parkway, and Highway 278 up to the Walmart in Hardeeville. It runs from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and is meant to serve working commuters, but also shopping trips, medical appointments, and getting folks from Sun City.

The mission of Palmetto Breeze Transit is “To provide regionally the safest, most innovative, cost efficient, multi-modal public transportation system possible. As the transportation authority we will work relentlessly to achieve coordination and pursue customer service satisfaction while providing freedom of mobility and independence to our residents and visitors in an environmentally friendly manner.” 

The Breeze vehicles are ADA accessible, with wheelchair lifts on busses and low ramps on trolleys.

Hopping on and off on Hilton Head has never been easier or breezier. To plan your trolley ride, visit or pick up a Rider’s Guide from any of the more than 150 island destinations that offer them.  

Related Articles

Top Dawg Tavern’s

If you’re not going to be the first to the party, you’d better make the biggest entrance.  Top Dawg Tavern proved that when it opened in Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina three years ago, becoming the latest addition to the growing family of restaurants.  The new...

read more

Tiki Hut Renovation Preserves Its Iconic Vibe

It can be daunting to mess with an icon.  For years, The Tiki Hut, the sprawling outdoor bar on the sand behind Beach House Hilton Head Island, has occupied a singular spot in Hilton Head Island’s heart. For visitors, it’s that place they dream of during those long,...

read more

Sweet Grass Meets Sweet Life

Around these islands there are names we know as well as the tides. Names, families, phrases, brands – familiar words that play like lyrics to our Lowcountry theme song and ring a sensory bell of Southern charm. These are words we recognize as chapter headers in the...

read more