Created in 1977, the Choanoke Public Transportation Authority has provided transportation services to citizens. The idea of rural public transportation was the brain-child of James T. Barnett, a man of vision and determination working tirelessly on the county, state and federal level in an effort to find an avenue to make his dream come true. Although Choanoke Area Development Association (CADA) was providing medical transportation to Durham and Chapel Hill, Barnett's idea of providing local public transportation had not been done in a rural area. Since CADA was a multi-county non-profit agency already providing limited transportation to Durham and Chapel Hill only, the idea was to create a legal public entity with powers to regulate and/or provide public transportation. A meeting was held in Murfreesboro, NC with the Chairman of County Commissioners of the counties served by CADA to discuss the idea of the four counties creating a public authority. Present at the meeting were; Charles Edwards, Bertie County; Harry Branch, Halifax County; Earl Lewis, Hertford County; Jasper Eley, Northampton County and Rep. Guy Revelle, Sr. and a representative from the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Rep. Revelle introduced legislation in the North Carolina General Assembly authorizing a county and/or multi-counties to create public transportation authorities in North Carolina.
Pursuant to N.C. G.S.160-496.1 the counties of Bertie, Halifax. Hertford and Northampton entered into a joint agreement to create a public transportation authority for the purpose of meeting the need for public transportation in the four-county area.
On November 7, 1977, a resolution was adopted by each of the four counties creating the Choanoke Public Transportation Authority, the first rural transportation authority in the state of North Carolina. The resolution gave the newly created agency broad powers. The first board of directors consisted of five members: J.C. Scarborough, Bertie County; James Thornton and Fred Frazier, Halifax County; Howard Hunter, JR., Hertford County and Grady Martin, Northampton.
The first meeting of the board of directors was held at the CADA office in Murfreesboro on March 23, 1978. The Newly appointed Board of Directors elected Howard Hunter, Jr. Chair; Grady Martin, Vice-Chair and James Thornton, Secretary. Since the newly created agency did not have an operating budget, it gave CADA the authority to act on its behalf to develop and provide transportation services and to report to the board of its progress and accomplishments at regular intervals. The Authority's Board of Directors held regular meetings along with staff from NCDOT addressing issues facing the authority and developing strategies to meet the challenges of operating a rural public transit system.
In 1978, CADA, on behalf of the Authority, applied for section 147 funding through the Federal Highway Administration. Later that year, FHWA funded a four-year demonstration grant of $250,000 to purchase vehicles and provide operating assistance. Nine, 20 Passenger Mercedes Buses were purchased along with a communication system. A radio tower was erected in Rich Square on land owned by CADA. Four vehicles were donated by CADA and the system began operating under the name of Choanoke Area Transit, (ChAT). The system operated with twelve employees: nine drivers, a dispatcher, mechanic and director. The first human service agency to use the service was the Hertford County Office of Aging followed by the Roanoke Chowan Mental Health Center. Others were added within six months including the Halifax County Mental Health Center and Vocational Rehab. The first year the system logged 98,000 miles and transported 12,000 passenger trips.
In 1982, the Board petitioned the commissioners of the four counties to increase the board from five to nine members; two each from Bertie, Hertford and Northampton counties and three from Halifax County. The number appointed from each county was based on population. At the end of the demonstration period, the employees continue to operate the system for six months without pay. During this period, the Authority Board of Directors applied to NCDOT for a Section 18 Grant for Administration, Operating and Capital Assistance. The grant was awarded in the Spring of 1983. The reorganized Board decided to cancel its agreement with CADA and operate the system as a public agency and moved the operations to Rich Square, rented the old Planters Hardware Building from REA as an office and garage and hired employees to operate the system. Wendell Edwards was hired as the Executive Director; Pamela Perry, secretary; Dorothy Boone, Dispatcher; Robert Sexton, mechanic; Chinita Mitchell, Finance Officer; Annie Jones, Records Clerk and ten drivers. During that year, five new vehicles were purchased and four new drivers and one mechanic helper were hired using Section 18 Funds. The early days were frightening. The Board had to borrow money in order to pay the bills and employees. The system often operated with a deficit and funding from NCDOT was always late, sometimes as much as three months. The demand for transportation increased each year as more agencies began using the service and the financial condition of the agency began to improve. Many continue to call for the CADA Bus. In order to remove the stigma associated with the old system, (CADA BUS), the Board changed the colors from Brown and Orange to Red, White and Blue. At the end of the first Fiscal Year, in excess of 80,000 passenger trips were provided.
The need for better office space prompted the Board to study the feasibility of purchasing land and building a new facility. The study was completed by Rich Garrity and Associates and presented to NCDOT. Upon approval from NCDOT, a grant was written in 1985 and approved in 1986. Land was purchased in 1988 and construction of the facility began in 1990. Construction was completed in 1991 and the new facility was occupied in April 1991.
The system continued to expand and in 1992, 1,000,000 passengers had been transported, thirty vehicles were in the fleet and employees totaled thirty-five. By the end of the nineties, the authority employed fifty people and transported 270,000 passenger trips. The building was expanded in 2002 to include a training room and more office space.
In 2007, after 25 years as Executive Director of Choanoke Public Transportation Authority, Wendell Edwards retired. Assistant Director, Pamela Perry, was named the new Executive Director of the Authority.
Throughout its history, Choanoke Public Transportation Authority has been recognized as a leader in public transportation in North Carolina and has received numerous awards and recognition on the state and national level.
CPTA celebrated 40 years in 2017!