The Call-A-Ride public transportation program will stay open for the rest of this fiscal year, thanks to a grant from the Valley View Foundation.

Valley View recently approved a $150,000 grant for the program to continue its operations, said the foundation’s immediate past chairman, Tom Bolitho. He said foundation officials believe that the program provides a vital community service that many people rely on.

“Our mission is to improve the health of the community, and the Call-A-Ride service fits our mission because so many people use it for medical visits,” Bolitho said Thursday.

Pontotoc County Commissioner Danny Davis, who serves on a committee exploring ways to shore up Call-A-Ride’s finances, said he learned about the grant sometime last week.

“I was smiling ear to ear,” he said. “It’s great to be able to do this for Call-A-Ride, and the group stepping up — Valley View — it really shows a lot for them and their support for our community.”

Davis said the grant makes it possible for Call-A-Ride to stay open through the rest of fiscal year 2018-19.

In the meantime, the Joint Call-A-Ride Committee is working on a plan — which will be submitted to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation for approval — to buy new buses for the program.

“Part of that money from Valley View Foundation is going toward our 15 percent share of the buses, which is great because we couldn’t have gotten these new buses without them,” Davis said. “It’s just amazing what they stepped up and did.”

Call-A-Ride’s director, Jeff Epperly, was unavailable for comment Thursday afternoon.

Next steps

The Call-A-Ride Committee has spent several months looking for ways to save Call-A-Ride, a county-run program that was struggling to stay open amid a serious budget crisis. Earlier this fall, Epperly announced that he would shut down the program at the end of November because he did not expect to receive additional funding.

Faced with the possibility that Call-A-Ride might close its doors, the committee voted in October to ask Valley View for a $150,000 grant to keep the program open for the rest of the current fiscal year.

Now that the grant has been approved, the committee will continue developing a plan to keep the program afloat after FY 2018-19 ends, said City Manager Cody Holcomb.

“The funding will enable CAR to begin acquiring new buses, and we will continue to pursue future funding in order to replace and increase the current aging fleet in order to address ridership demands,” he said in a statement. “The Call-A-Ride (CAR) committee will meet in December to determine the desired level of service for our community beyond the 2018/2019 fiscal year.”

Committee Chairwoman Billie Floyd said the committee is working diligently on a strategy to keep Call-A-Ride going and upgrade the service.

“We’re looking forward to purchasing three new vehicles and perhaps hiring some people — some additional drivers — so we can improve the service that we have now,” she said. “That’s just sort of our Band-Aid.

“And then when we get our new vehicles, we’re going to look to other people to help us with this. Because this is not just a city-county project. This is going to involve the whole community to continue to stay involved. Because public transportation is a necessity — not only for the elderly, the needy and the special-needs people — but it would be a real boon to employment, to all facets of life, if we could get a public transit system that people could depend on.”

Floyd said anyone who has suggestions for improving Call-A-Ride may email her at billie.floyd@att.net or call her at 580-320-7807.

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.