Community rallies to keep public transit in Escambia County
ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. (WEAR) —
* This story has been updated to provide the official count by organizers of attendees.
There was a strong show of support at a town hall meeting on Monday night to continue the public bus system in Escambia County.
"This is nothing that should even have to be negotiated," Leon Bell, a supporter of Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT). "We shouldn't even have to discuss this."
ECAT has come under fire by some county commissioners recently. In May, commissioners started the process of ending the contract with the company that runs ECAT, so the county could run the system themselves.
Then, Commissioner Doug Underhill called into question if public transit was even needed. Ridership is down across the country.
Underhill previously told Channel 3 that residents should not have to pay for a service that so few use.
Mike Lowery, president of the union that represents ECAT workers, said public funding only accounts for a fraction of their operating costs. He adds that it should be more than just about profit.
"We think this is a community issue, this is an important issue that affects people and they need to be the focus more than the transit workers," Lowery said.
The union organized Monday's town hall. Lowery said that 383 people signed in at the front table. Many shared why they need public transportation.
"Let me just remind you that the day will come when your car won't start," Bell said.
The panel at the meeting all showed support for keeping the service. Pensacola Councilwoman Sherri Myers, civil rights activists Reverend Dr. H.K. Matthews, as well as some church leaders all testified the need for public transit.
Some in the business community echoed the need. Laurie Rodgers of Pace Center for Girls said without public transportation, half their clients would not be able to get to the facility.
"It breaks my heart to think of not just one person that doesn't get an opportunity to live a life that's defined by pride and self-sufficiency and independence," Rodgers said.
A message many hope their county commissioners will hear.