CRESTVIEW — Okaloosa County officials are losing patience with the county’s public transit system operator, Commissioner Kelly Windes says.
At Tuesday’s commission meeting, his fellow commissioners also expressed concerns about the performance of Maruti Fleet and Management, which provides fixed-route bus service as well as door-to-door transit service for the poor and disabled.
The Jacksonville-based company began a five-year, roughly $2.6 million annual contract with the county in October 2015. Since then, however, county officials have received numerous complaints from bus passengers about late or missed bus pickups.
Some of the latest complaints were aired at Tuesday’s meeting by Crestview Manor Director Becky Brice-Nash. She said a Manor resident missed two health care appointments last week because of Maruti’s poor service.
Brice-Nash added that she was unable to reach anyone at Maruti on the phone to address her concerns.
“It’s inexcusable,” she said. “You cannot keep doing this to people.”
Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Ketchel said she was “very disappointed” to hear about these latest troubles.
Commissioners directed Maruti in early March to make immediate improvements to its overall service. Company officials in early April provided commissioners with a 90-day improvement plan, and on Tuesday gave an update on its progress.
“I appreciate your patience so far,” Ayan Upadhyay, Maruti’s director of special projects, told commissioners.
He said the company in the past month made more than 7,500 passenger bus trips, which he said was a sharp increase compared to the previous two months and reflected more customer confidence in using the service.
Upadhyay also said the company has been having meetings with passengers as well as officials from clinics and nursing homes to hear and address their concerns. And according to information from Maruti, the company hired 17 new bus drivers in April to bring its total number in Okaloosa County to 61. The company cites its increase in drivers as the top reason why it has seen an improvement in its average on-time passenger pickup rate.
Commissioner Nathan Boyles wondered what the company was doing to ensure its employees answer phone calls from customers. Upadhyay replied that Maruti recently hired two new dispatchers and now has a total of five, and that the company is working on routing calls to the right place.
“You have improved,” Ketchel said, but “I’m still frustrated. I’m still getting calls (from irate customers) I wish I didn’t get.”
Commissioner Trey Goodwin shared similar concerns.
“Things have improved, but not enough,” he said. “Please continue to make progress as hastily as possible on this. The folks we get complaints from can’t do it themselves.”
Upadhyay said while the company’s overall performance “cannot be made overnight,” Maruti is “committed to this project and the folks here.”
Still, Windes warned that Maruti’s passengers have lost patience with the company, and that the patience of county staff and the commission is running out.
“My dad would say, ‘Excuses be damned. Just get the job done,’ ” Windes said.
The commission agreed to direct staff to continue to monitor Maruti's progress and provide an update June 6.