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Last-minute turnaround saves Okaloosa bus service

People who depend on Okaloosa County bus service packed a commission meeting this morning, trying to save what they say is their only affordable transportation. A budget shortfall had commissioners considering an end to regular bus routes. But there was a last-minute turnaround.

Laura Hussey "This is the Okaloosa County Transit stop at Uptown Station, kind of quiet now between routes. Before Tuesday morning's commission meeting, there were fears it was about to get this quiet all the time"

Okaloosa Transit, also called The Wave, is primarily funded by state and federal grants. But county money is needed to start the matching process. Next year, commissioners were told over six hundred thousand dollars would be needed.

Even with a seven to one return on the money, some were balking. Tuesday they heard from people with limited options and limited resources.

There was Michelle, who is legally blind and rides the bus to her GED classes. And Richard, who has Tourette's Syndrome.

Richard Ferrari "I don't drive right now, 'cause I don't have the money for a car. But I would like to go out there and actually study and improve my life"

Others have the luxury of driving, but said cutting the buses creates hardship for those who can least afford it.
Martha Bayer/FWB "It's a lifeline, totally a lifeline, it gives them freedom" 

The pleas were combined with some new numbers. Staffers took a closer look at what money could qualify for matching grants, and got the county's expense down to two-hundred sixty thousand.

With a new program manager on the job, commissioners expressed confidence in plans for more marketing and service improvements. Martha Bayer says their "yes" vote reflects well on the county.

Martha "What do they have to offer, as a caring community. They have a public transit system. I think it just takes us up a step as a tuned-in community"

Laura Hussey "With fixed routes now secure for another year, the priority seems to be finding some type of a coop. The county wants cities to help foot the bill; the cities want a voice in how things are done."