December 5, 2012

Enterprising islanders offering a ‘sand taxi’
for travelers without four-wheel-drive


Until recently, residents and visitors traveling to and from Hatteras Island in two-wheel drive vehicles had just one transportation option -- ride the ferries.

For visitors, this tacks on three or four hours—sometimes many more—to an already time-consuming trip, and for residents, it made off-island travel for doctor appointments, work, school, or other errands extremely difficult.

But on Nov. 10, two-wheel drivers caught a break.

Jarvis Williams, who owns Cape Point Exxon in Buxton and who was contracted by the North Carolina Department of Transportation to remove any vehicles that got stuck on the newly opened four-wheel-drive only access route, got the idea to start trailering two-wheel-drive cars and trucks across the sand road.

It's a simple idea, really, and not surprisingly, it has been quite well received. When you're in a hurry, a 15-minute ride over land beats a three-hour trip across the sound, and an on-demand sand taxi beats an hours-long ferry line any day of the week—even if you have to pay for the convenience.

In fact, the service has been so popular, that on a single day during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Williams and his crew towed 86 cars across the quarter-mile long sand road.

It wasn't long before that kind of demand necessitated an increase in supply.

Scott Caldwell, who owns Island Convenience in Rodanthe, started towing cars over Thanksgiving weekend when he saw how many people wanted—and needed—to use the service.
"There were cars lined up from Hot Tuna to the [emergency] ferry dock," he said, all of which were waiting to be towed across the sand.

Eric Stump, who owns Island Cruisers, a four-by-four rentals operation in Rodanthe, also got in on the action, spurred on by phone calls from people who wanted to rent his four-wheel drive vehicles in order to cross the sand road.

All three have reputable, established, and fully-insured towing businesses that have long operated on the island. And though traffic has decreased considerably since the holiday weekend, Williams, Caldwell, and Stump are still plenty busy.

And since Highway 12 will not be repaired until at least Christmas, it seems likely that they will remain so.

All three charge $25 per trip, and all three operate seven days a week, from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. --the only times during which the sand road is open.

In addition, all three offer both on-demand and reservation-style services.

So, you can give one of them a call when you're ready to cross the road, or, if you know in advance when you'll need to cross, you can arrange for someone to meet you on a specific date at a specific time.

All southbound travelers will be picked up at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service parking lot, which is just south of the checkpoint and the temporary bridge over Pea Island Inlet.

Northbound travelers will be picked up at different places depending on which company is providing the service.

Caldwell will meet customers at Island Convenience, and Stump will pick up his customers at the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo Community Building. Williams will meet his customers near the Midgett Realty building in Rodanthe, just south of the checkpoint station.

Caldwell can be reached at either 252- 216-5733 or 252- 987-2239. Stump can be reached at 252-987-2097 or 252-202-8399. Williams can be reached at 252-475-4285.

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