KATS serving during pandemic, but needs help

Brian D. King | Daily Press

Terri Squyres is the supervisor at Ki Bois Area Transit System in Tahlequah.

Ki Bois Community Action was developed in 1964, when Haskell, Latimer, and LeFlore counties boards merged their agency, but today, it is known for transporting people throughout northeastern Oklahoma.

The agency partners with Cherokee Nation, which pays passage for its citizens, but Ki Bois Area Transit System offers rides to everyone and is now the biggest KATS system of the 12 counties it serves.

KATS provides passage in town as well as to surrounding communities, such as Hulbert, Peggs, Woodall, Briggs, Lake Tenkiller, and Cookson.

Recently, KATS staff have faced their own challenges. Currently, they are trying to fill positions.

“Our biggest challenge we face is getting employees," said Charla Sloan, transit director of KATS. “We’re looking for a dispatcher right now. That’s the biggest challenge, and having enough drivers and vehicles to meet the needs of the community in Tahlequah because it gets very busy.”

KATS implements a mask mandate for drivers and riders. It has installed air filters that pass air continually as riders get on and off of their vehicles.

“We inspect our buses daily to make sure they’re clean and safe for our drivers,” said Sloan.

In 2020, KATS cut service so buses only went out to essential places. Free rides were provided to all area residents. Despite that, ridership decreased. Over the past year, Sloan has seen that as more people are feeling comfortable with travel, ridership is now higher than it was a year ago.

“We’ve had some people who got mad because they didn’t want to wear a mask. And so we don't let them ride. It’s as much for the other riders on the bus as for our driver’s safety,” she said.

The plan is to continue traveling as is, but Sloan hopes to add another vehicle in Tahlequah as ridership has increased.

“We’re running commuter routes for Cherokee Nation, so if anyone needs to go to Catoosa or wherever to get to work, we can,” said Sloan.

They also provide transportation for Cherokee citizens who require groceries or need to go to doctors' offices or dialysis.

All drivers undergo a background check every year and is subject to random drug and alcohol testing. They are also provided with training.

“We do our best to try to make sure we are providing safe transportation,” said Sloan.

Trending Video