Committee discusses finding new operator for Call-A-Ride

From left to right, Pontotoc County Commissioner Danny Davis speaks as Ada City Councilman Randy McFarlin looks on during Monday’s meeting of the Joint Call-A-Ride Committee. The committee is talking about finding a third party to run the public transportation program.

With time running short for the Call-A-Ride public transportation program, a committee charged with finding ways to save the troubled program is talking about finding a third party to run it.

The Joint Call-A-Ride Committee discussed the possibility of turning the program over to a third-party operator on Monday but did not make a recommendation. As an advisory board, the committee makes recommendations for the Ada City Council and the Pontotoc County Board of County Commissioners to consider.

The clock is ticking for Call-A-Ride, a county-run program that is struggling to make ends meet. The program’s financial woes recently prompted Director Jeff Epperly to announce that Call-A-Ride would close its doors Nov. 30.

City Manager Cody Holcomb said he and Pontotoc County Commissioner Danny Davis discussed the situation with Oklahoma Department of Transportation officials on Friday and followed that conversation up with an email to ODOT. Holcomb said he and Davis wanted to know the procedures for shutting the program down in November, as well as the steps the county should take if it decides to save the program.

“The context of that conversation (about keeping the program alive) was in the nature of a third party continuing that service, either with a temporary contract or a full-time contract — third party,” Holcomb said. “So we have reached out, and we’re waiting to hear back.”

ODOT spokeswoman Kenna Mitchell confirmed that Davis and Holcomb had contacted the agency’s transit division with questions about shutting down Call-A-Ride.

“We’re gathering that info for them so they can have very thorough information as they consider their next steps,” Mitchell said Tuesday in an email.

Ending the program

Epperly has already filed a letter of termination with the Pontotoc County clerk’s office, announcing that Call-A-Ride would go out of business at the end of November. The letter outlined a plan for dissolving the program, which included notifying the public at least 30 days before closing and auctioning off all assets that were bought with federal dollars.

Under Federal Transit Authority rules, a public transit program can’t begin shutting down without first obtaining state and federal approval of a termination plan.

But Mitchell said Tuesday that ODOT has not yet received Call-A-Ride’s termination plan.

Finding a solution

Talk of finding a third party to run Call-A-Ride prompted Pontotoc County Drug Court Administrator/Coordinator Calvin Prince to ask whether the county had already started work on closing the program.

“Has the process begun to close the existing service?” he said.

County Commissioner Davis confirmed that the county has started that process because Call-A-Ride Director Epperly must give the public advance notice of his plans to close the program.

“We can’t wait until Nov. 30 and see if anything came in,” Davis said. “We’re going to have to start the process and if something wonderful happens, yes, we’ll take off again.

“But as of right now — just my opinion — I think we need to be looking for the third party.”

City Manager Holcomb said ODOT required Epperly to submit a written notice of his plans to shutter Call-A-Ride, which must include the closing date.

“And so if and when you do that, the next step is a closure action plan,” Holcomb said. “And my understanding is, that’s the conversation where you have to decide and communicate either ‘We’re done,’ or ‘We’re looking to transfer the service.’”

Holcomb said he thought if the county finds a third party to run Call-A-Ride, the action plan would spell out the details of the transition. He noted that ODOT would have to sign off on the action plan before it could be implemented.

But Davis said regardless of what ODOT does with the action plan, Call-A-Ride doesn’t have enough cash to stay in business after Nov. 30.

“Whether they accept it or whatever happens, by Nov. 30 there won’t be no money left to operate,” he said. “You may have Call-A-Ride out there and Jeff sitting at his desk, but there won’t be nobody working.”

Eric Swanson is the City Hall and general assignment reporter for The Ada News. He spent 15 years working at the Dodge City Daily Globe in Dodge City, Kansas, before joining The Ada News’ staff in 2012.