TAHLEQUAH -- When area residents find themselves without wheels or maybe don't feel comfortable driving anymore, or just want to reduce gasoline consumption, Cherokee Nation Transit can get people to their respective points A and B.

CN Transit offers reliable, affordable and safe transport for American Indians to their destinations by contracting with agencies to provide more than 100,000 rides per year.

"The program contracts with four area transit agencies to conduct daily operations," Michael Lynn, CN Department of Transportation director, said. "Those include Ki Bois Area Transit or KATS, Pelivan Transit, Muskogee County Transit and Cimarron Public Transit. The CN collects monthly reports from each agency, which provides the number of rides during a reporting period. In fiscal 2018, the CN provided a total of 107,712 rides, which equates to 8,976 rides per month or 2,071 rides per week."

CN Transit has identified five primary or priority "destinations of necessity" for its clients: jobs or employment, health care appointments, government services and offices, grocery stores and banks or financial institutions.

"I noticed KATS bringing some folks by the Cherokee County Election Board to vote early in the Tahlequah city elections," Lynn said. "The elderly and less mobile most definitely use our transit system, but that's not all. The most recent report tells us that, of our five priority destinations, 31 percent of our riders are accessing employment, followed by grocery shopping at 29 percent. Both health care and government services are tied at 19 percent while the remaining 2 percent of our ridership accesses financial institutions."

Lynn said when the CN enters into a contract with a transportation service, those agreements include demand responsive, or "curb-to-curb," amenities, usually within city limits, and from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"The Nation also contracts with three of the four agencies to provide commuter route services -- long hauls from town to town -- at the times and days specified by schedule," Lynn said.

The tribe first provided transit service in 2008 through KATS, and offered tribal employees and the public with "park and ride" commuter service between Stilwell and Tahlequah. A contract was inked with Pelivan in 2009 to cover a route between Catoosa and Pryor.

Lynn said the transit services were first considered in 2005 during reauthorization of transportation legislation.

"Tribal transit programs had not been authorized before then, but the tribes were successful in acquiring annual federal funding to address the mobility needs in Indian Country," he said. "In 2006, the Nation obtained a planning grant to see where transit services were needed the most, and by 2007 had obtained its first bus. Since then, the Nation's transit program has grown by leaps and bounds, operating with 16 vehicles."

Transit contracts call for 16 vehicles leased to area transit agencies for use within their respective jurisdictions. Seven are provided through KATS, six through Pelivan, two through Muskogee County and one via Cimarron. The demand response fare is 50 cents one way or $1 round trip. Commuter fares are the same price, except on Fridays when the trips are offered for no charge.

In fiscal year 2017, the CN invested nearly $265,000 in federal Tribal Transportation Program funding to improve several area transit program operations. Each year, the tribe uses a portion of its TTP funds to provide additional transit services for CN citizens and the public.

For information on CN Transit Services or the contracted transit providers, call 1-800-256-0671 or visit http://transit.cherokee.org.