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New Mid-State Express bus service connects Winston-Salem to Fayetteville corridor

New Mid-State Express bus service connects Winston-Salem to Fayetteville corridor

Passengers ride aboard Sunway Charter’s comfortable 56-passenger commuter coaches

CHARLOTTE, N.C., August 12, 2022 – A smart, easy, affordable way to travel to and from Winston-Salem and Fayetteville, North Carolina, has arrived. Mid-State Express provides daily round-trip intercity bus service to and from Winston-Salem and Fayetteville with stops in Lexington, High Point, Asheboro, Siler City and Sanford.

The service was launched in July by local operator Sunway Charters in cooperation with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT).

Outbound service at both the Winston-Salem and Fayetteville Transportation Centers begins each day, on-time at 9 a.m., with return trips departing at 2 p.m. Mid-State Express service operates seven days a week, 365 days a year to better connect riders who want to commute to jobs and schools, visit relatives or get to medical appointments and other places without a car.

Sunway Charters has dedicated four highway-style intercity coaches to the service. The 56-passenger coaches feature reclining forward-facing seats, individual reading lights and airflow controls, power outlets and free Wi-Fi. Each coach is equipped with a wheelchair lift in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Sunway Charters also operates the Mountaineer East/West intercity bus service from Winston-Salem, serving Boone, Wilkesboro, Hamptonville and Greensboro, and the Mountaineer North/South route, serving Charlotte, Gastonia, Lincolnton, Hickory, Lenior and Boone.

In partnership with NCDOT, Sunway Charter’s fixed-route services give passengers a comfortable and affordable alternative to driving between major cities throughout the state. Travelers can reach an even wider selection of destinations when they coordinate their travel with Amtrak and other individual carrier bus services linked to several of the stops on the routes.

For detailed information about the locations of stops and departure times and to purchase tickets online, visit Passengers must have exact change to purchase tickets on board the bus.

With locations in Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Jacksonville, and Myrtle Beach, Sunway is the largest charter service for the Carolinas. Learn more here.

By |2024-03-07T18:54:03+00:00December 4, 2023|Uncategorized|Comments Off on New Mid-State Express bus service connects Winston-Salem to Fayetteville corridor

Meet Phyllis Gillenwater from the Sunway Charters’ Charlotte Office

Meet Phyllis Gillenwater from the Sunway Charters’ Charlotte Office

Phyllis Gillenwater

Phyllis has been with Sunway since October 2016 and serves as a Sales/Travel Consultant. A wealth of information and experience, Phyllis doesn’t just handle quotes & bookings. Phyllis’ approach to working with clients is more of a consulting manner for their transportation needs. Many times, callers aren’t sure what they will need or may need help working through the logistics for their groups. Phyllis also serves as Sunway Charlotte’s office manager.

“I had my own delivery service company in North Carolina. I moved to South Carolina for a time where I worked at a motorcoach company, so I was already familiar with the industry. When I moved back to Charlotte, I called an old friend who worked at Sunway and that is how I ended up here!” explains Phyllis.

“I have helped many people who are trying to secure transportation for a son or daughter’s wedding and find they just don’t know where to start. It is gratifying when I can help them figure out what they need and get the process started for them. I really enjoy helping people who really need some guidance, as well as their gratitude and relief when we get it worked out for them. I really enjoy the work environment here at Sunway.”

When she’s not at work, Phyllis enjoys raising chickens and working outside in her yard. She also takes care of her young granddaughters on the weekend and enjoys doing fun and educational things with them. “I love going to the movies or reading a good book sitting on my outside swing.”

Phyllis – we love having you as part of the Sunway family – we don’t know what we’d do without you!

Sunway Charters has a reputation not just for great transportation services, but also for the culture they create within, and the caliber of the people they hire.

By |2023-12-04T22:42:42+00:00December 4, 2023|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet Phyllis Gillenwater from the Sunway Charters’ Charlotte Office

Sunway Charters: A Well-Oiled Machine.

Sunway Charters. A Well-Oiled Machine.

North Carolina, home to Kitty Hawk, has a long legacy in transportation. While The Wright Brothers may have the skies, Sunway Charters specializes in the roads. Based out of Charlotte, we have quick access to our nation’s scenic highways such as Crowders Mountain Drive, with its sweeping valleys, and vibrant colors. As Autumn is fast approaching, taking a ride through the countryside certainly has its appeal.

In terms of motorcoach transportation options, Sunway offers it all, from long hauls coast to coast, to school and group travel or providing transportation for local events. And, as North Carolina is the U.S. pioneer of mini golf, which was first introduced at Pinehurst in 1961, we have a special interest in and love of golf tournaments.

But without a great maintenance program, our buses wouldn’t run safely or efficiently. Sunway Charters is a well-oiled machine, running and servicing a fleet of well-oiled machines. We have protocols and tests in place to ensure that any Sunway coach that you board is fully road-worthy and ready to roll.

Sunway Charters requires 90-day inspections for every vehicle it operates. This means that for every 90-day cycle, each vehicle is fully inspected for roadworthiness, from every interior and exterior light to every safety feature, every major component system such as HVAC, electrical, brakes, engine, transmission, and more. Sunway technicians follow a detailed checklist to ensure that every system meets or exceeds federal safety requirements. Additionally, it adds an annual inspection for every coach, as well as employing specified manufacturer-recommended mileage service intervals on all its vehicles.

Sunway Charters employs a sophisticated vehicle maintenance system designed to offer an array of features, including defect identification, compliance-based inspection scheduling, and both planned and unplanned maintenance activities. This digital platform not only optimizes the entire workflow but also guarantees that our record-keeping surpasses all requisite industry standards.

Our main tenets are Safety and Reliability. So before and after every single drive, from a few miles to across the country, Sunway drivers perform a pre- and post-trip inspection of the vehicle to ensure that all systems (lights, wipers, HVAC, etc.,) interior and exterior mirrors and cameras are in full working order, all fluids are properly filled, and that tires are checked for tread depth and elasticity to help ensure roadworthiness, as well. Additionally, both the interior and exterior of the coaches are inspected for any obvious damage.

Finally, after each trip, Sunway drivers and technicians make a thorough inspection of the vehicles to ensure that they continue to be in top-tier condition.

Sunway technicians also go through rigorous training protocols, and many have received certifications in various systems maintenance such as AC, federal inspection certifications, air brake maintenance, and more, as well as taking part in regular training provided by each vehicle’s manufacturers and national associations such as the American Bus Association (ABA.)

Sunway Charters goes above and beyond many DOT safety regulations to make sure your trip is completed without an incident. We hope that you’ll call on us for all your group transportation needs.

By |2024-02-23T20:51:26+00:00September 1, 2023|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sunway Charters: A Well-Oiled Machine.

Sunway Charters introduces new Charlotte Terminal Manager, David Kulhawik

Sunway Charters introduces new Charlotte Terminal Manager, David Kulhawik

David Kulhawik

Sunway Charters’ latest addition to the team, Charlotte’s new Terminal Manager David Kulhawik, hails from Coco Beach, Florida, and currently resides in Belmont, North Carolina with his spouse and dogs. Outside of Sunway, David loves to ride his side-by-side UTV (Utility Terrain Vehicle,) work in his yard improving his lawn and flower beds and spend time with his family and his German Shepherd, Rottweiler, and Yorkie pups.

David began his transportation career at the age of 17, in a position with a local funeral home, Carolina Mortuary Services, transporting decedents. In his capacity driving for this company, he found that he very much enjoyed being behind the wheel and decided to pursue a career as a professional chauffeur. He subsequently took on a new position with a prominent full-service black car limousine transportation company, where he spent the next several years. “I loved the idea of meeting new people and the wide variety of personalities there are to interact with. Plus, there are so many places and incredible scenery to see. I didn’t want to miss those opportunities,” David expressed. “And distance driving is a great opportunity for self-reflection.”

As a natural progression to a promising career, David decided to acquire his CDL. Eager to further develop his skills as a driver and take on more responsibility, he obtained a passenger endorsement and started a job with Sunway Charters, driving motorcoaches and transporting larger groups of people. These trips took him around the country, from New York to Louisiana and all the way to California. As he loved serving passengers, he quickly realized that this was a perfect marriage of the thrill of driving and personal interaction that he loves.

After spending a few years with Sunway, he received an opportunity to join another motorcoach company, where it was not long before he became one of their most-requested chauffeurs, enabling him to travel to even more exciting destinations and enjoy many unique experiences.

Having built an impressive resume, David was eventually offered a full-time position as Safety Officer with a motorcoach company in South Carolina, where he took the initiative to receive multiple DOT certifications in drug and alcohol screening and to further immerse himself in the direct management of safety regulations. He also successfully created and implemented a company-wide safety manual and regularly conducted safety classes for all new hires. He has also led the company through the passing of three rigorous DOT audits.

Finally, after building this illustrious career, opportunity knocked, and David found his way back home to Sunway Charters this past winter. “I was ready for a change,” stated David. “I found out that Sunway was looking for someone, so I called Lee.” David is happy to take on the position of the new manager for the company’s Charlotte terminal, and we are so happy to have him back to take on this role.

By |2023-06-21T18:22:29+00:00June 20, 2023|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sunway Charters introduces new Charlotte Terminal Manager, David Kulhawik

Meet Sunway Charters’ Coastal Team in Jacksonville, NC

Meet Sunway Charters’ Commanding Coastal Team in Jacksonville, NC

Erica Robinson
Dennis Beach

Sunway Charters has a reputation not just for great transportation services, but also for the culture they create within, and the caliber of the people they hire.

This issue, we highlight the indomitable team that is Sunway Charters – Jacksonville.

Heading up the Jacksonville terminal is Terminal Manager Erica Robinson. A native of the Jacksonville area, Erica attended Coastal Carolina Community College in Jacksonville in pursuit of a Criminal Justice degree. Getting her foot in the door of the transportation industry, Erica accepted a part-time position with Coach America in 2003, reviewing paper driver service logs, a job at which her detail-oriented mind excelled.

In 2006, Erica was promoted to a full-time administrative position with Coach America, where she happily settled for the next several years as the company changed hands several times over the next decade, helping to sustain the various changes to the company as they occurred.

At the inception of Sunway Charters’ 2015 acquisition of the company, owner Lee Helms saw something special in Erica and in 2016, offered her the opportunity to move into a management position within the company. While she had never really seen herself in this type of role, Erica feels that the experience and growth have been very beneficial to her on both personal and career levels. As she says, “Sometimes you just don’t know what you’re capable of until you’re pushed.  I have worked with some great mentors in this industry that have helped me get where I am today.”

Erica summarizes, “I love the business, I love Sunway. Lee Helms has been so good to us, and I love every team member we have here at Sunway. I couldn’t do what I do, and Sunway couldn’t do what it does if it wasn’t for each individual employee and the role they play here in the company. They are all important. I have wonderful customers that I get to deal with and build relationships with. It’s just amazing to hear the wonderful stories of their trips, their “Sunway” experience.”

We sure are glad she didn’t pursue that career in Criminal Justice!

While not managing the Jacksonville Sunway terminal, Erica loves to spend time curled up with a good book, attend her church, spend time with her best friend and husband, Thomas, and their four kids and grandchild, and most especially travel extensively with Thomas.

Another crucial member at the Sunway Charters’ Jacksonville terminal is Maintenance Manager and 22-year Marine Corps veteran, Dennis Beach.

Dennis began his career with the Marine Corps in 1982, where he began basic training in San Diego. During his time with the Marines, he trained as a Heavy Equipment Operator where he often was charged with having to fix his own equipment. He saw active duty in Operation Desert Shield / Storm, was deployed to numerous operations during his enlistment, including Fort Lejeune, NC, and finalized his military career at Marine Corps Engineer School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri in 2004 at the rank of Gunnery Sergeant.

After leaving the military in 2004, Dennis returned to North Carolina where he soon found a position with Coach America as a wash rack supervisor. He was quickly promoted to Preventative Maintenance Mechanic. Over the years, he held positions within the changing companies as lot foreman, strom water supervisor, and underground storage tank supervisor as he continued to climb the ranks within the company until in 2018 when he was offered the position of Sunway Charters’ Jacksonville terminal maintenance manager.

In his spare time, Dennis enjoys spending time with his adult daughter, bicycling, reading a good science fiction or historical book, and getting engrossed in a great movie.

About Sunway Charters’ Jacksonville Terminal

As Jacksonville is home to Marine Corps Camp Lejeune, Camp Geiger, and New River Air Station, Sunway Charters proudly transports our military service members on a weekly basis.

Sunway also holds a contract with Amtrak through its Jacksonville terminal to service two routes, 365 days a year.

Route 1 – Wilmington – picks up at

  • Wilmington
  • Jacksonville
  • Kinston
  • Goldsboro
  • Wilson (Amtrak train station)

Route 2 – Swansboro – picks up at

  • Swansboro
  • Morehead City
  • Havelock
  • New Bern
  • Greenville
  • Wilson (Amtrak train station)

Once buses arrive at the Amtrak station in Wilson, Sunway waits for the afternoon train and drops passengers off in the reverse of the routes above.

Note: Customers interested in coach transportation service from the Amtrak station should purchase their bus tickets directly through Amtrak.

During the recent business shutdowns during 2020-2021, at a time when there was very little travel, Sunway’s maintenance department began offering its maintenance services to local companies. They now specialize in providing maintenance services to several local bus fleets, including Camp Lejeune school buses.

For more information on how we can assist you with your transportation or fleet maintenance needs, please contact Erica at or 910-577-4422.

By |2023-04-20T15:32:48+00:00April 13, 2023|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Meet Sunway Charters’ Coastal Team in Jacksonville, NC

Sunway Charters Highlights Impressive Winston-Salem Team

Sunway Charters Highlights Impressive Winston-Salem Team

Sunway Charters has a reputation not just for great transportation services, but also for the culture they create within, and the caliber of the people they hire. This issue, we highlight the impressive team that runs the Winston-Salem terminal.


Brittany Sawyer
Art Montiel
Brittany Sawyer

Heading up the Winston-Salem terminal is Terminal Manager Brittany Sawyer. A native of Winston-Salem, she spent her youth as a resident of Stokes County, the eldest daughter of a Benefits Specialist and an Aeronautics Engineer. As a family with a strong work ethic, Brittany was taught at an early age that achievement in life was hers to attain.

Post-high school, Brittany began her career in the food service industry, where she stayed for over 15 years, mastering service, and learning to interact with customers and people in general. During this time, she got to know the Sunway Charters terminal manager, who in February of 2020, enticed Brittany to leave the restaurant business that she loved to take a chance on Sunway as a sales consultant.

Excited to spread her wings in a new industry, although the onset of the pandemic hindered businesses everywhere, she used the time to embrace learning as much as she could about the company and the motorcoach industry. As business started to pick up again in 2021, Brittany began assisting the dispatch manager and in March 2022, had the chance to increase her role within Sunway by having the designation of Dispatcher added to her Sales function.

In July 2022, the opportunity arose for Brittany to step into the position of Terminal Manager. Customer service and satisfaction are her specialties. As she states, “I want the Customer to have a superior experience from their first request for a quote to execution of the trip.” Brittany continues, “I am so thankful for all of my experiences with Sunway.” Her maxim, a quote from author Kevin Stirtz, is “Know what your customers want most and what your Company does best. Focus on where those two meet.”

In Brittany’s spare time she loves to cook, go on long car rides listening to music, and spend time with the lights of her life, her three kids, Jack, Sienna-Rae and Tristan.

Art Montiel

An additional key success story to Sunway Charters’ Winston-Salem terminal is CFO and “Line Run Mastermind,” Art Montiel.

Art is a graduate of the University of Florida and began his career in the Mortgage Industry where he spent 10 years as Sr. Accountant, Financial / Treasury Analyst, and Cash Management. From there, he moved into the tourism industry with Silver Seas Cruises as their Financial Reporting Manager. He also spent a few years doing some Internet Billing with an online credit card transaction platform, as their Financial Reporting Manager.

Art began in the motorcoach industry in 2007 as America Charters’ Controller. He became their regional Controller a couple of years later, managing the finances of their Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Durham, and Jacksonville, NC locations. When the company was acquired by Horizon Coach Lines in 2012, he stayed on in that role. In a few years, when that business was acquired by Trolleys Inc, now Sunway Charters, President Lee Helms saw the value in Art’s experience and promoted him to the position of Vice President and CFO.

In his spare time, Art enjoys being outdoors, spending time with his family, and riding his Harley.

About Sunway Charters’ Winston-Salem Terminal


As the Sunway Charters “school transportation central,” the Winston-Salem terminal is one of Sunway’s primary hubs for school trips. They also are well known for wedding and event transportation, utilizing both trolleys and motorcoaches. Winston-Salem can accommodate groups of many sizes, starting with their illustrious trolleys for up to 24 riders, their 38-passenger coaches, as well as full size 57 passenger motorcoaches, with options in between.

Winston-Salem, known as “Twin City”, is a growing city that exudes southern hospitality. So, whether you want to enjoy a Wake Forest game at the LJVM, catch a race at Bowman Gray, or a take a stroll through historical Old Salem, Winston-Salem has something for everyone!

Sunway Charters Winston-Salem – Specializing in:
  • Midstate and Mountaineer east-west line runs.
  • Motorcoach charters for sports teams and school trips.
  • Coordination of convention transportation to local attractions, restaurants, and events.
  • Airport transfers/shuttles for groups.
  • Wedding and event transportation utilizing Sunway’s distinctive Trolleys or motorcoaches.
  • Small and Large group movements.

You may also see a Sunway bus at large events such as High Point Furniture Market or shuttling students from campus to Wake Forest sporting events.

For more information on how we can assist you with your transportation needs, please contact Brittany at brittany@sunwaycharters or 336-767-1511.

By |2023-03-08T22:29:08+00:00March 8, 2023|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sunway Charters Highlights Impressive Winston-Salem Team

Sunway Charters Charlotte introduces Kendra Washington as terminal manager

Sunway Charters Charlotte introduces Kendra Washington as terminal manager

Kendra Washington
Jacob Hooks

CHARLOTTE, NC. December 1, 2022–Sunway Charters has a reputation not just for great transportation services, but also for the culture they create within, and the caliber of the people they hire.

As Owner Lee Helms always says, “I have a knack for putting the right person in the right job and letting them run with it.”.  That’s exactly what he did when he hired Kendra Washington as the Charlotte facility’s dispatch supervisor.  After less than one year, Sunway promoted Kendra Washington to the position of Charlotte Terminal Manager.

Prior to coming to Sunway Charters, Kendra had worked in the restaurant industry, where she learned much about managing the immediate demands and needs of her customers and juggling a lot of “plates”. During her time in that profession, she became a great problem-solver and developed outstanding customer service skills. In her role at Sunway, Kendra excels at keeping things organized and giving extraordinary attention to even the smallest details of the management of her terminal. Outside of the Sunway office, Kendra enjoys attending concerts and traveling. Some of her favorite destinations are Nashville, TN, and Cancun.

Within the Charlotte office, Kendra works closely with Sunways’ Director of Operations, Jacob Hooks, who oversees the functionality of all the Sunway terminals and the operations of the organization, while ensuring that Sunway Charters operates in compliance with federal and state safety guidelines. Jacob started his transportation career driving a school bus, which inspired him to enter the motorcoach side of the transportation industry.  As a child, Jacob’s dream job was to be a bus driver, so he’s literally “living the dream!” When decompressing from a day at the office, Jacob also loves attending Broadway shows.

About Sunway’s Charlotte Terminal

As the corporate headquarters of Sunway Charters, the Charlotte never stops moving! Charlotte has the fleet diversity to cater to groups of many sizes, starting with 14-passenger minibuses, their illustrious trolleys, and all the way up to full size 55 passenger motorcoaches, with many other options in between.

Charlotte, also known as the Queen City, is constantly growing while still striving to bring that small town feel to a big city. So, whether you want to catch a Carolina Panthers game in Bank of America Stadium or do some shopping at SouthPark Mall, the city of Charlotte has something for everyone!

Sunway Charters Charlotte – Specializing in:
  • Motorcoach charters for Sports Teams and School Trips.
  • Coordination of convention transportation to local attractions, restaurants, events.
  • Airport transfers/shuttles for groups and individuals.
  • Wedding transportation utilizing Charlotte’s distinctive Trolleys
  • Small and Large group movements

You may also see a Sunway bus at large events such as the Wells Fargo golf tournament or any Charlotte Hornets game, usually transporting the opposing team.

For more information on how we can assist you with your transportation needs, please contact Kendra at kendra@sunwaycharters or 704-348-1200.

By |2022-12-01T06:05:39+00:00October 2, 2022|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sunway Charters Charlotte introduces Kendra Washington as terminal manager

Sunway Charter Myrtle Beach Welcomes the Return of Terri Goldenbaum as Terminal Manager

Sunway Charters Myrtle Beach
Welcomes the Return of Terri Goldenbaum
as Terminal Manager

Sunway Charter has a reputation not just for great transportation services, but also for the culture they create within and caliber of the people they hire.

Recently, Sunway welcomed back Terri Goldenbaum, who was with the company for several years until she decided to explore other industries and expand her experience outside of Sunway Charters. While she was away, Sunway was never too far out of Terri’s mind, and owner Lee Helms certainly had not forgotten Terri. On a social call, Lee took the opportunity to ask if Terri was interested in rejoining the company and shared what he had in mind. Before you knew it, Myrtle Beach had a new Terminal Manager.

Combining both her experience with Sunway, within the industry, and from her other past roles, Terri brings a fresh perspective and a list of ideas and goals to the position.  Her previous experience includes being a Paralegal as well as a Central Reservations and Sales Manager for large motorcoach and public tour company in New Jersey. Terri excels at giving attention to her clients and in executing her ideas on marketing specific to her location and customers. Outside of work she enjoys problem solving and puzzles – perfect hobbies for this position!

Terri is joined by Sunway’s Maintenance Manager, Kirk Ehmann. Also returning to Sunway, Kirk is a highly trained and skilled mechanic specializing specifically in Van Hool motorcoaches, an important specialty due to the volume of Van Hool motorcoaches housed at Sunways’ Myrtle Beach facility. Kirk is also an avid trivia buff

About Sunway’s Myrtle Beach Terminal

As the largest charter bus provider on the “Grand Strand”, Sunways’ Myrtle Beach location is focused on meeting the needs of both the local clientele, such as schools, local sports teams, and church or club groups, as well as the very specific tourism market, which is made up of conventions, family reunions, visiting sports teams, military reunions, and golf outings, to name a few.

The Myrtle Beach area is known as the “Grand Strand” because it contains 60 miles of coastline. Because there are so many attractions, it is not unusual for a group’s one-day itinerary to include time shopping at the outlets in North Myrtle Beach, a tour of Atalaya Castle, and a nature walk at Huntington Beach, dinner at one of the restaurants on the Marsh Walk in Murrells Inlet, then ending with a show at Barefoot Landing in the evening. This typical day for a visiting group might be more than 80 miles of travel.

Sunway Charters Myrtle Beach – Specializing in:
  • Motorcoach charters for Family Reunions, Sports Teams, Schools, and groups.
  • Coordination of convention transportation to local attractions, restaurants, events.
  • Small and Large group movements.
  • Shuttle moves along the Grand Strand.
  • Airport transfers/shuttles for large and small groups.

For more information on how we can assist you with your transportation needs, please contact Terri at terri@sunwaycharters or 843-293-2100.

By |2022-10-04T15:01:03+00:00October 2, 2022|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sunway Charter Myrtle Beach Welcomes the Return of Terri Goldenbaum as Terminal Manager

Sunway Charters sees rapid growth serving the Carolinas and beyond

Sunway Charters sees rapid growth serving the Carolinas and beyond

Adds five coaches and a new fixed-route service

CHARLOTTE, NC. JULY 11, 2022– As more Americans moved south during COVID, Sunway Charters’ owner and President Lee Helms knew when transportation returned to normal his Charlotte, North Carolina-based firm would be ready to meet the travel demand.

“Our entire industry has been through something unprecedented, but we knew there would be many new opportunities in our region when the economy finally got going again,” said Helms, who in June added five coaches to his expanding 140-vehicle fleet of luxury motorcoaches, midsize coaches, mini-buses, transit buses, and trolleys.

In July, Sunway added four of those coaches to its new Mid-State Express route. The fixed-route service provides daily round trips from Winston-Salem with stops in Lexington, High Point, Asheboro, Siler City, Sanford, and Fayetteville, supporting North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) intercity transportation. A round tripfrom Fayetteville will also stop in those same towns.

Meeting demand

The South was the only region of the country that had a positive net migration during COVID, according to North Carolina’s Office of State Budget and Management blog, citing the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2021 estimates.

Sunway Charters’ business expansion reflects the trend. Besides its Charlotte headquarters, Sunway operates locations in Winston-Salem, Jacksonville, NC, and Myrtle Beach, SC, and runs charters, golf tournament transportation, event, corporate and airport shuttles, school trips, military transport, and more, including its expanding daily scheduled commuter service for NCDOT.

A natural entrepreneur

Sunway’s success began with Lee Helms’ entrepreneurial spirit and an ability to spot opportunities in other territory.

A Charlotte native, Helms worked for his father’s insulation company in his teens, where he would be up in hot attics of homes for hours as an insulation installer and later as an electrician. While Helms had other career plans, “the work ethic stuck,” he said. As an adult, he entered the bar and restaurant business, opening his own place in his mid-twenties, while serving as a Reservist in the Air National Guard. A decade later, he joined the corporate world becoming a sales leader for a national foodservice distributor.

His entry into the charter bus industry began when his cousin, who owned a tour operation, won a contract in 1999 to manage a golf tournament at North Carolina’s Pinehurst and called on Helms for help.

“We managed a big crowd,” recalls Helms, who continued to work with his cousin in management, booking school travel and bringing customers back after 9/11.

By 2002, Helms was the owner of a small trolley business in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2004, he was ready to move beyond trolleys when he purchased his first coach, an MCI F3500 that was the last to roll off the company’s Sahagun, Mexico assembly line.

But by 2011, Helms was looking to accelerate the growth of his business when he found Sunway Charters & Tours, a small coach company in Myrtle Beach, SC, for sale. After buying Sunway, Helms began by changing the name of his company from Trolleys of the Carolinas to Sunway Charters. The acquisition added casino trips, cruise ship runs, and cross-country tours.

In 2015, Helms doubled his current territory and expanded his fleet by acquiring North Carolina’s Horizon Coach Lines, which was struggling at the time. With the purchase, he gained Horizon’s Charlotte, Winston-Salem, and Jacksonville locations along with their scheduled service operations. Sunway’s fleet went from 20 vehicles to 100 overnight.

“I knew we could turn the business around,” said Helms. “We already had our Charlotte location, so we sold theirs along with some equipment and kept the scheduled service operation with North Carolina DOT intact and ran that through COVID which really helped us.”

Connecting communities

Sunway connects communities by operating intercity bus service from its Winston-Salem and Charlotte locations.  In partnership with NCDOT, these services give people a comfortable and affordable alternative to driving between major cities throughout the state.

Sunway operates the Mountaineer East/West intercity bus service from its Winston-Salem location for Boone, Wilkesboro, Hamptonville, and Greensboro. Its Charlotte location serves the Mountaineer North/South route for service in Gastonia, Lincolnton, Hickory, Lenior, and Boone.

Each of Sunway’s locations also has its specialty. The Charlotte location provides service for the NBA, several city tour organizations, and they are the official transportation provider for the Charlotte Sports Foundation. Winston-Salem works with Wake Forest Football, local universities Greek-life, and the High Point Furniture Market.

Jacksonville supports Amtrak in providing “thru-way” service in the eastern parts of North Carolina. They also are heavily involved in military moves for nearby bases. Myrtle Beach is the official transportation provider for the Myrtle Beach Pelicans while also partnering with Hilton Grand Vacations to provide shuttle service to their excursions.

Helms’ early success at Pinehurst also kept Sunway building a niche and gaining a reputation as a quality transportation provider for golf tournaments. Sunway serves the Wells Fargo Championship, traditionally held in Charlotte, NC; annually transports the players and their families during the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in Georgia; and provides transportation for other PGA tournaments throughout the South and even the Northeast. Sunway coaches helped carry crowds to 2022 U.S. Open Championship at The Country Club in Brookline, MA, held in June.

Creating a culture that works

Helms says, “It’s important to have a good CFO, who brings clarity to financial matters, and for me to understand each person and put them in the right job, so everyone is doing what they are supposed to do.”

Sunway rewards employees for jobs well done with annual pay increases and increased hourly rates for drivers to help offset the pandemic strain.

Based on social media feedback from customers, Helms’ approach encourages team members to dedicate themselves to the safety and comfort of Sunway’s passengers. Glowing reviews about Sunway driver Shameeka Simpson, who became like family to a group traveling to Charleston, SC, has made her one of the company’s most-requested drivers.

Sunway also gets high marks from customers for stepping in on the occasional hiccup with other carriers or assuring groups during severe weather conditions that Sunway will always stand ready to transport them safely.

Leading by example

Active within the bus industry for two decades, Helms served as President of the North Carolina Motorcoach Association from 2018-2021. Under his leadership, they began having an annual meeting between neighboring states’ associations to increase regional networking opportunities and provide cost-effective vendor participation.

Helms also serves on the board of the Motor Coach Association of South Carolina and is an active member of the North Carolina, Virginia, and New York motor coach associations and the United Motorcoach Association (UMA).

“I am dedicated to improving the efficiencies and resources for the industry,” said Helms. “I enjoy building businesses. I have a knack for it.”

In 2018, Sunway Charters was named in METRO Magazine’s Top 50 Operators as the 25th largest operator in the nation and continues to climb.

By |2022-09-01T22:13:33+00:00July 11, 2022|Uncategorized|Comments Off on Sunway Charters sees rapid growth serving the Carolinas and beyond
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