Public Convices Okaloosa Co. to Keep Bus Services

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OKALOOSA COUNTY-- When Okaloosa County Commissioners convened Tuesday morning, it appeared the county's bus system was out of gas and headed to the garage permanently.

The public transit system is strapped for money and riders, but supporters convinced commissioners to keep the buses rolling a bit longer.

Okaloosa County's fixed-route transit service was all but left for dead heading into Tuesday's commission meeting.

"The five months you have data for, is averaging about 900 riders per month, that's not 900 people," Okaloosa Co. Commissioner David Parisot said.

But after finding ways to save money and hearing from the public, commissioner's climbed aboard a new plan to give the transit service new life.

Commissioners say their change of heart came after figuring out they'll only have to pay $260,000 out of their budget for the service, because they plan to form a new co-op between the county and a number of its cities to help pay for the program.

"Let the cities be more active participants with the cities of Crestview, Destin, Fort Walton Beach. Whatever it takes, we like the idea of a co-op," Fort Walton Beach Mayor Mike Anderson said.

"And due to leadership, people getting out from different organizations, from the state and federal, and understanding how to use funds more efficiently," Bob Berkstresser, from Okaloosa County Transit, said.

Commissioners also said they believe the new leadership at Okaloosa County Transit will help make the program more successful.

Riders who depend on the buses every day say they're thrilled their only means of transportation will stick around.

"I am going to get my GED in Fort Walton. That's an effort on me," one community member said. "Also, I use the transit system to get to my doctor appointments in For Walton."

Representatives from Sunshine Shuttle of Walton County said they would be interested in partnering with the Okaloosa County transit team for a program similar to the ones they've created along 30A and at the Sandestin Beach and Golf Resort.