The county has officially ended what commissioners described as an OK run of the Santa Rosa Transit program.
And for the 700 or so riders that use the bus service every month, the end of the line could be the end of a job.
The bus service’s main goal was to get people to and from work along the Highway 90 corridor from East Milton to Nine Mile road and University Parkway in Pensacola.
When the bus service first started in December 2010, commissioners were confident that the bus service would be beneficial to locals who needed to get to and from work.
But on Thursday, commissioners voted 3-2 against continuing the service for another year. Commissioners Don Salter and Lane Lynchard were in favor of keeping the transit program.
Despite a number of changes to the route, including a reduction in stops to make the round trip shorter, numbers weren’t impressive to commissioners.
Many who utilize the bus system including Maggie Maggie of Milton, said that stopping the bus service was the last thing that needed to happen. Maggie relies on the service to get her to and from work.
“I was very disappointed that they declined to approve another two years for the Santa Rosa County transit program,” Maggie said.
“The funds were available and approved for this project already as a federal grant.”
According to Shawn Ward, the county’s transportation planner, 35 percent of the program is funded by federal grants.
The county pays for 18 percent of the total cost of the bus service, which would have equated to $48,000 over the next two years.
Only five percent of the program is paid through the fares. To get on the bus, it costs $1.
When the county cut out routes back in May, ridership slumped nearly 150 for the month. A month before the cuts, ridership peaked at 810 riders. But the numbers weren’t enough to persuade commissioners to change their mind.
“Commissioner (Don) Salter and (Lane) Lynchard fought hard to save the program, and the public spoke in favor of keeping it,” Maggie said. “In fact some begged that it be kept because many people who don't have transportation or who can't drive will lose their jobs, not be able to get to classes, not be able to get to the doctor, or go shopping for groceries.”
Jessica Anderson, who also utilizes the bus system sad that it wasn’t a good move for the county to stop the bus service.
“I think it will be sad once they stop it,” Anderson said. “Especially the ones who don’t drive, plus the elderly who rely on it to go to places like grocery shopping or the doctor’s office.”
Shawnon Babb said her friend’s son relied on the bus service, and said something should have been done to extend the service.
“My friend's adult son with autism uses that bus to get places,” Babb said. “Obviously if they needed more money to keep it, they need
to spend a little to advertise it better. Apparently so many did not even know it existed.”
Milton resident Jill Youngblood said that ending the transit program was the wrong move for the county to make in the wake of one of the longest recessions in U.S. history.
“I am in amazement that the county commissioners voted as they did to end the Santa Rosa County transit system,” Youngblood said.
“After listening to the many people that use this mode of transportation, (the county) still voted to end their connection to employment, higher education, and healthcare.
“Not everyone can afford a car, car insurance, fuel, and tags for a vehicle. This does not make them any less of a Santa Rosa County citizen.”
Youngblood said that the county puts a small percentage of their dollars to the program, and said a lot of people use that bus to make ends meet.
“A mere investment of $24,000 a year to provide this vital of a service is a small price to pay (for the county),” Youngblood said. “I feel the county has really let its residents down this time.”
Ward said that the bus system would stop operating on December 28, unless the program can find additional funding to cover the $24,000 deficit.
“I can tell you that the Florida-Alabama Transportation Planning Organization is looking at additional funding sources to keep the buses rolling,” Ward said. “I was there to give them (commissioners) the information and numbers on the transit program.
“We were just wanting to keep the service going.”
People like Steve Robertson and Susan Ames who commented on the Santa Rosa Press Gazette’s Facebook page that they didn’t know there was a transit program in the north end of the county.
The Santa Rosa Transit program is a cooperative effort through the Florida-Alabama TPO with the county being the sub-recipient. Pensacola Bay Transportation operates the buses for the county.