City leaders in Destin have asked for and been given a temporary reprieve by county commissioners after one of the city's transit routes escaped the chopping block.
"We're going to sit down with stakeholders and anyone who is affected by the Highway 98 corridor," Community Development Director Ken Gallander said. "We're thankful that the county gave us time to figure this out."
During their Tuesday night meeting, county commissioners discussed the possibility of eliminating two WAVE transit routes in Crestview and one route in Destin, due to increased operating costs and decreased funds. These particular routes were selected because of a "lack of appropriate funding levels" and low ridership numbers compared to other routes.
According to the numbers from January through July, ridership on route 33, which runs through Destin to Silver Sands Premium Outlets in Walton County, has increased each month, with the exception of February, which stayed flat. Although route 33 has the highest percentage increase, it has the lowest number of actual riders.
As county commissioners contemplated shutting down the routes, Commissioner Kelly Windes, who lives in Destin, suggested that the county give city leaders in Destin some time to put a plan together for potential funding.
"They don't feel this immediate shutdown is fair," he said.
In a letter to County Administrator Ernie Padgett, City Manager Maryann Ustick wrote that community leaders in Destin recognize and appreciate the importance of a "reliable, visible and accessible transit system" in the area that supports the local economy.
Ustick also mentions the transit routes as they relate to the city's multimodal transportation goals, which encourage motorists to use alternate methods of travel, such as bikes and transit.
"We are requesting sufficient time to bring together all stakeholders to secure the financial support needed to continue the service in the upcoming fiscal year and also begin a formal process for solidifying a long-term commitment and plan for improving upon the reliability, visibility and accessibility of the existing transportation system along the Highway 98 corridor," she wrote.
Fort Walton Beach resident Cassandra Perkins was one of many that spoke during Tuesday night's public hearing. Perkins told commissioners that she typically rides route 33 to work three to four times a week.
"It's usually pretty packed," she said, adding that many people who live in Fort Walton work in Destin.
When it came time for county commissioners to vote, Windes made a motion that would extend route 33 for 180 days, although the route would ultimately terminate if funding wasn't secured.
As for Destin, Gallander said the city has already been engaged in early discussions, but would ultimately take the 180 window to figure out the appropriate course of action.
"We do have ridership, and we want to increase that ridership," he said. "We want to look at ways we can improve on this system. We want to improve the reliability, the visibility and the accessibility of the entire system."