Commissioners approved the hiring of a part-time bus driver to deliver lunches for Orange County’s Meals on Wheels program. It was a move that was needed to get all drivers under the 29 hour requirement.

Commissioner Precinct 3 John Banken said he would like Judge Thibodeaux to officially appoint a committee to determine how many busses are actually needed in Orange County. “I really feel we have too many busses. I want to work with Donna. It has nothing to do with Donna doing her job properly, she does a great job but, there are some questions out there that I’ve asked that no one seems to know the answer to. I think we can save some money. I know the busses are given to us. We’ve got to maintain them and it costs a bunch of money for fuel and maintenance.”

Thibodeaux said he would put it on next week’s agenda. He also advised Donna Minter, Orange County director of transportation to contact the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Committee (SETRPC).

“They have a required number of busses. They have a required number of everything. And if I’m not mistaken, they do have a say so in the number of busses we have.”

“Yes, sir,” said Minter.

“And there is money they give us every year that is based on that,” said Thibodeaux.

“Yes, sir,” said Minter.

“They will probably want to be on that committee or at least address the committee,” said Thibodeaux. He said they didn’t need to be there next week, because he will just form the committee, but he wants them advised of it.

Currently there are 23 vehicles and 18 drivers in Orange County with the Southeast Texas Transit System. Five or six of those vehicles are not operational at the moment according to Minter.

Of those 23 vehicles, only four lunch vans are owned by Orange County. The other vehicles are owned and insured by the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Committee. SETRPC also pays for most of the fuel for the vehicles.

Funding from SETRPC covers expenses for roughly nine months of the year. The county covers expenses for the remainder of the year. Fares collected from riders go into the county’s general fund. None of it goes to SETRPC.

In April Orange County transported 3,620 citizens, receiving $4,001 in fares. May figures included 3,680 trips with $4,579 in fares. June saw 3,552 riders with fares totaling $4,542.

Minter said they are unable to accommodate 10-20 people a week because the times requested are not available and other dates and times won’t work.

“We stay very busy,” said Minter. “Especially since there are no city busses, we are in demand.”

She said most of the riders are very low income or the elderly.  Most of the trips are for work, doctor visits or grocery shopping.

Current fares are $1 one way in Orange County. Trips to Beaumont or Port Arthur are $2.50 each way.

Minter said since the drivers are now limited to under 29 hours it is difficult to cover if just one driver is out, because most are averaging 27.

“I don’t have all the answers,” said Minter.

Requests for rides must be made 24 hours in advance. Call 409-745-9511 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to schedule a ride.

Southeast Texas Transit busses for Orange County are housed at the Transportation Department located on Farm Road 1442. RECORD PHOTO: Penny LeLeux