Tuesday, the Santa Rosa County Board of CountyCommissioners will hear from concerned citizens about the lack of public transportation and the difficulties they face because of this fact. There are those who may have their own vehicles who still wouldn’t be able to drive to the meeting, those working through a suspended license. Lotta Vinson, director of Santa Rosa County Probation, said she’s seen what people have to go through to get to the probation office without being able to drive themselves.
With the county spread out as it is, Vinson said many have to come from areas like Gulf Breeze to the probation office on Caroline Street in Milton. She said “Some pay a ridiculous price of $100 to go back and forth by cab. Some hitchhike. A lot of times, they think they have a ride and that gets cancelled. That could lead to a violation. We try not to let that lead to a violation, but if they do that a couple months in a row, we have no choice. “ Vinson said she also wonders if those cancelling appointments really have no ride or are just avoiding a drug test. “I could at least say, ‘Get on the bus.’”
Vinson said, “One thing we see we feel sorry for, if they have a DUI, they just drive.” She said sometimes those with a DUI have no other way to get to the office so they take a chance. She said, “We have them rearrested, which then prolongs the ability to get their license and the 12 months starts over again. It’s a vicious cycle. We still have to take action. They’re in a catch-22.”
For those who don’t chance driving on a suspended license, Vinson said some get a ride from a friend, ride a bike, or even walk. She said some on probation have to visit the office three times a week, which can be a burden on others providing the ride. For those who walk and ride, she said, “Even locally, it could be 100 degrees…I’ve had them walk from Pensacola. They get up first thing and start walking. We have people who ride a bike from Cantonment. I had this one man ride every month. They find a way to do it.” She said they do offer water and let them try to cool off upon arrival. In addition to needing a ride to the office, she said some have to get to counseling or community service.
Alton Johnson is the founder and director of Second Chance Outreach Re-entry and Education (SCORE) Development, a program designed to get ex-offenders on their feet, according to Johnson. He said. “I have to provide transportation to them. For 60 men it gets very costly.” He said he has to take them for probation meetings, medical appointments, to the social security office, license office, and more. “For June or July it was $2,500 in fuel. We can’t afford to do that every month.”
As far as public transportation, Johnson said he wasn’t sure if it would help SCORE because a lot of offices his clients need to see are in EscambiaCounty. “If they’re on federal probation, I have to go to Pensacola…If we had ECAT over here, we’d still have to connect to Pensacola for that distance.”
Keep up with the Press Gazette for more on the public transportation question as the Board of County Commissioners considers it in the coming meetings. Also look for more on SCORE and its founder, its multiple education opportunities, and its 80 percent success rate.