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ECAT takes part in "Try Transit Day" despite uncertain future

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A bus service in Escambia County is under fire, but that didn't stop a celebration on Thursday.

County Commission Chairman Doug Underhill is pushing for a referendum on whether to eliminate the service. He calls it a waste of taxpayer money, but Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) joined a national push to support mass transit.

The future of ECAT is uncertain. It's a fact not lost on managers and riders as they marked the annual Try Transit Day.

Transit systems have observed the Try Transit Day for years by encouraging people to leave their cars and try the bus.

While Underhill wants to dump the buses and their $13 million yearly costs, transit managers are staying focused on their mission.

"It just so happened there's other things in the media about public transit, but right now we're still here providing over 1.4 million trips a year," said Tonya Ellis with ECAT.

People who stand to lose the most of the buses go away turned out in force to support the service. For many it's their only option.

"You gotta look at the impact that you're having on these people's lives," said ECAT rider William Simpson. "They are gone, a lot of people out there depend on the bus. You gotta put yourself in their shoes."

Staff is working on a plan to bring ECAT employees under the county when the current management contract expires in October, but the future of ECAT may rest with voters at some point.

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