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Okaloosa County Hopes to Improve Transit with New Department, Director

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Okaloosa County
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Okaloosa County is working to fix ongoing issues with its public transportation system with a new department, new director and possibly even a new vendor.

In July, county officials approved the establishment of a transit department and a transit division manager. In October, the county hired Tyrone Parker, who brings his 25-plus years experience working with transit systems in Jackson, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama. Parker will work alongside Deputy County Administrator Greg Kisela to oversee operations and improve customer service.

Orlando-based Maruti Fleet and Management LLC is the contracted operator for the county’s public transportation, called EC Rider. They provide fixed-routes and door-to-door services for the poor and disabled, otherwise known as paratransit.

Their five-year contract with the county began in Oct. 2015, and in the past three and a half years, the company has struggled to provide customer satisfaction, says Kisela.  

“Predominately, the complaints have been about overall on-time performance,” he added. “We’ve had individuals that have been missed completely.”

Kisela said the goal is a 90 percent on-time rate. For the most part, Maruti has performed in the “high 70s, low 80s percent.” In the past few years, the transit system has seen a decline in ridership on its fixed routes. Kisela said he believes it’s because of on-time performance.

“For a (client) who is trying to get to a doctor’s appointment or to work, they don’t have the ability to be 15, 20 minutes late,” he said.  

The Maruti contract costs about $2.6 million and is funded mostly from state and federal grants. The county is currently in the marketplace for a new vendor, and Maruti is among other transit systems competing for that bid.

Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel is a liaison for the Transportation Disadvantaged Coordinating Board. She said the county has worked to make the system better by adding extra routes and increasing the pay of bus operators to $13 an hour to be more competitive. She believes good management from Parker will “turn this thing around.” 

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Tyrone Parker

Parker was only ten days on the job when he was embedded in the emergency operations as Hurricane Michael was heading toward Northwest Florida. With a little more than a month into the job, he’s busy working to identify issues and come up with solutions.

Parker has a bachelor’s degree in computer technology from Jackson State University. He started working for the Jackson Mississippi Transit System (JATRAN) as a student intern. He was general manager of JATRAN when he was transferred to Mobile, Alabama in 2007 to work for the transit system there.

As the new guy in a brand-new department, there’s a lot of work ahead.

“I’m up for the challenge,” he said. “I want to make EC Rider a viable option to provide safe and reliable service.”

Parker said he’d like to change the perception of public transportation in Okaloosa County and encourage citizens to utilize the service as a transportation alternative.

In the future, Parker’s goals include developing partnerships with local businesses, agencies, and state colleges as well as implementing training sessions on public transportation to new clients.

“We can do a better job of marketing and promoting services, especially those for the disabled,” he said. “We operate more than just the trolleys you see driving to Destin.”