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ECATS could be in jeopardy

With a $500,000 shortfall in the county’s general fund budget and an untold amount facing the county coffers beginning in October, the Escambia County Area Transit System (ECATS) could be in jeopardy of shutting down.
The shortfall, which was announced Monday and attributed to lagging collections in oil and gas production privilege tax, must be bridged before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year.
In 1995, ECATS began providing low-cost transportation services using four vans. Since then, its fleet has grown to 11 vans – seven of which are currently operational with drivers, said ECATS director Valeria Osby.
“It’s our mission to service the citizens of Escambia County by providing transportation to all, especially the elderly and handicapped,” Osby said. “We have a wide-variety of options available for anyone who has travel needs.”
Pick-ups are scheduled 24-hours in advance, with a 2 p.m. cut-off time for the next day. Stops include local doctors’ offices, area retails and those requested by the client.
Riders must pay a fee for the service – $3 for two stops within Brewton or Atmore city limits.
For rides from Brewton to Pollard, the cost is $5; to Flomaton, $6; to Atmore or Evergreen, $10.
For rides from Atmore to Bay Minette, the cost is $6; to Brewton, $10; and to Pollard, $7.
There has been no fare rate increase since October 2005.
Funded through a mixture of state and federal grant funds, the program requires that the county provide matching funds. Traditionally, the majority – if not all – of that match is funded using fare box collections.
For the 2016 fiscal year, Osby has applied for a $207,000 grant, which would require an $81,000 match from the county. How the county will meet that match, as well as all its other funding obligations in light of revenue shortfalls, remains to be seen.
On average, more than 200 people a week use the service, Osby said Monday.
More people need to utilize the service, she said.
“We’re here for everyone,” Osby said. “We know there are those who need cost-efficient transportation options, and that’s what we’re all about.”
Rides are available from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., Monday through Friday, with special times available to dialysis or medical patients. To schedule a ride in Brewton, call 251.867.0584, and in Atmore, 251.446.9681, ext. 137.