CRESTVIEW — Residents and city officials, along with Okaloosa County Transit management, have discussed ways of improving Crestview's bus routes if they continue operating past Nov. 4. That's the date the county will terminate routes 11 and 12 unless the cash-strapped city finds funds to match the county's share after state and federal grants.
More than a dozen residents and nine officials on Tuesday shared ideas during an informal gathering in the Crestview Community Center. Consolidating local service into one route; eliminating underused or closely located stops to expand service to unserved areas; eliminating duplicated service; and running smaller buses at slow times are among suggestions.
An essential service
Several residents described the importance of the bus service to their daily lives.
"I have to ride the bus. There is no choice for me," Winsome Houston said. "I'm legally blind and I can't drive anymore."
Linda Hermenitt took the bus to attend the workshop.
"I have to ride the bus," she said. "I don't have a vehicle. I've been to Wal-Mart, I've been to Villa Crest. I go to the library, and to LifePoint Church on the bus."
Until she retired, Carol McPherson rode the bus every day to her jobs at Walgreens and Wal-Mart.
"I take it to Publix more than anywhere," McPherson said. "I don't have a car. I never had a drivers license in my life."
City Clerk Betsy Roy said during the county commission meeting at which Crestview's bus service was discussed, people said they would willingly wait an extra half-hour if the routes were consolidated.
However, Okaloosa County Transit coordinator Lani Birchett said changing or consolidating routes is a difficult process and "is not going to happen overnight."
A unique problem
City Planner Eric Davis said no other city in the county has to find funding to maintain bus services. The county wants at least $25,000, and possibly as much as $50,000, from Crestview to match its share, he said.
Roysaid a possible source could be increased gas tax revenue expected to begin coming to the city after Jan. 1, but she noted the same source also must fun city road repairs, which are several years behind.
Barry Peterson, Okaloosa County Transit’s operations supervisor, said fares do not come close to covering the bus operating expenses.
Resident Kenny Fuller, a regular bus rider, said he believed that it was unfair to expect the city to pay for the buses. Like roads, they're an essential service, he said.
"The city, it's not their job to fund the buses, and they don't have the money anyway," Fuller said. "The buses are like roads. You don't make any money paving the roads."
However, Elliott Kamper, the county’s growth management director, said city funding is probably the only thing that will save the Crestview bus routes.
"Strategically, the best thing that could happen is for the city council to agree to fund 50 percent of the cost," Kamper said.
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.