The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 16, 2013

EPTA seeks ways to increase funds

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Despite a massive budget cut and an overhaul of the way buses run in Enid, there’s still work to be done within Enid Public Transportation Authority, its general manager said Monday.

EPTA already has slashed its budget this year by more than $200,000 based on the agency’s proposed fiscal year 2013 budget. It also dropped its fixed-route service and now only picks up passengers when they ask for a ride by phone or over the Internet.

General Manager James Neal and the EPTA Board of Trustees will consider charging fare for personal care assistants, who are those helping disabled individuals.

Under the previous system, which also had a dedicated paratransit service, the transit service was required to carry PCAs at no cost. Now that the city doesn’t make a delineation between common and paratransit fares, the law does not apply.

“That no longer applies to us. We can charge them a fare like any other passenger,” Neal said.

The trustees understand the topic could cause discord among the bus-riding community, but seemed amenable to the proposal.

“This is one of those few things we can do that will help with this revenue gap,” said Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell, who sits on the EPTA board.

Neal estimates at least one-quarter of all riders are PCAs. The written policy will be introduced to the board at its next regular meeting.

Other options for saving money include closing the dispatch and call center on Saturdays, which is a typically slow day, Neal told the board. The buses still would run, but someone wanting a ride on Saturday would have to schedule it during business hours on Friday or earlier.

EPTA also is applying for a grant to increase the ratio of smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. In a proposal to Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Neal is requesting funds to help purchase five minivans.

Enid’s transit service is in a more stable position since the changes, Neal said. Still, he’s not ready to say it’s a comfortable situation.

“I’m never going to be comfortable while we’re running a deficit. We’re heading in the right direction, so I’m comfortable with the direction we’re headed in,” he said.

The changes that are coming will be for the same reason previous changes came down the pike, he said, to make the system work better for people using it and for those paying for it.

“We’re all, as taxpayers, funding this system and we all deserve a system that operates a little more efficiently and effectively,” said Neal.