Partnerships building for Santa Rosa public transit
As Santa Rosa County continues to grow, so does the need for readily available public transportation within the county and connectivity to surrounding areas — an issue the faith-based community is working to address, with the help of the county and other partners.
At an update Tuesday to the County Commission, several local church leaders expressed a willingness to offer use of their church vans and buses for public transit throughout the county, with volunteers ready to help with the effort.
“Some of our churches that do not even have church vehicles that they own have contacted me and said, ‘We want to supply people,’” said Brian Nall, pastor of Ferris Hill Baptist Church in Milton. “‘We want to supply volunteers, whether it be people’s personal vehicles or our church resources. We want to step up to help be the church, to solve part of this issue.’”
The County Commission directed Transportation Planner Shawn Ward Tuesday to work with partners, including the Santa Rosa Bridges Out of Poverty organization, local churches and the city of Milton, to create a county public transportation plan with any associated costs to be brought back before the board at a later date.
Bridges Out of Poverty is a national nonprofit group that works to move people and their communities toward self-sufficiency.
Local transit providers, city and county representatives, business leaders and residents have collaborated with Bridges Out of Poverty through several workshops since Aug. 2014 to move the initiative forward.
During those workshops, the organization has seen a need for a multi-pronged approach to public transit in such a large and diverse county, said Santa Rosa Bridges Out of Poverty President Karen Barber.
Though the faith-based organizations can play big role in providing transportation for those struggling to get to places like medical appointments and grocery stores, Barber said the need for standard public transit remains.
“When it comes to post-secondary education and work, we have to have consistent, reliable public transit,” Barber said.
Anthea Amos, dean at the Pensacola State College Milton campus, agreed, adding that potentially hundreds of students each semester — some with full-ride scholarships — have no available transportation to PSC or the University of West Florida.
“And they have no way to get to that education,” Amos said. “They can’t use their scholarships.”
The County Commission directed staff last year to work with the Bridges Out of Poverty and explore new opportunities for public transportation, which is currently limited within the county.
Ward said the county's Vets to VA and Transportation Disadvantaged programs offer rides to those who qualify, but they are typically on a first-come, first-served basis.
Last year, 388 trips were provided through the Vets to VA program, according to the county, and as of June, 220 trips have been provided in 2015. The county’s Transportation Disadvantaged program, which is for those limited by physical or mental disability, income status or age, saw about 39,500 trips last year.