Lawton city staff is ready to talk cost for a system that will provide Fort Sill soldiers with transportation in the wee hours of the morning.
City and LATS administrators are to provide those figures today for a proposal the City Council — acting in its capacity as the City Transit Trust — indicated it supported in November. The new Night Owl Service program will provide “micro transit” options, similar to Uber or Lyft, for soldiers going to and from areas where LATS fixed route buses don’t operate. The key is that system will operate at times when LATS doesn’t run: 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. Soldiers will summon rides via a Rides on Demand app.
LATS General Manager Ryan Landers said last month his staff already was working to identify the most common routes, in terms of soldiers who need transportation on- and off-post. Landers said analysis also was needed on costs: vehicles that will be used to transport what is envisioned as multiple soldiers at one time, and staff to operate the service. Landers had predicted at least six dedicated personnel: four drivers, a superintendent to oversee the crew, and a mechanic.
City Council members had wanted to see all the costs associated with the program. Today’s presentation is expected to include discussion on the costs of vehicles, personnel and other capital equipment. City staff said with the presentation of that information, as well as plans identifying a funding source, they could bring back a budget amendment to allow the project to begin.
While Landers initially predicted the system could be operational by March or April, Mayor Stan Booker insisted the system needed to be working by March 1. Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Sartain said the new service is important to Fort Sill, as well as soldiers and their families.
“This is a lifeline for them,” Sartain said.
City jail, homeless issues on agenda
In other business, the council will look at a proposal from Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren seeking a private contractor to operate the municipal jail, and respond to a request from Ward 5 Councilman Allan Hampton to address the community’s homeless problem.
Warren’s agenda item asks the council to consider initiating a Request for Proposals process seeking firms able to provide professional management services for the municipal jail. That RFP would include timelines for implementation. City officials have been discussing the idea in recent months, with Warren and others asking whether the city wants to be involved in running the city jail or hire a professional contractor. The jail is under the Lawton Police Department and if a private contractor is selected, it will work in conjunction with the police department.
The RFP for the 24,673-square-foot structure on the south end of the Lawton Public Safety Center has an overnight capacity of 112, but has averaged 49 inmates per day in the last 12 months. While 60 days is the maximum amount of time an inmate may be held, two weeks has been the average length of stay in the last year.
Hampton is asking for discussion on issues presented by Lawton’s homeless population, to include those who set up encampments outside of businesses, occupy vacant homes in residential areas, and loiter in multiple areas and leave debris. Hampton said some businesses have complained about homeless people entering to ask for free items or use their facilities.
Others have expressed concerns about fires set in vacant structures. Lawton Fire Marshal’s Office estimated 52 percent of fires in vacant structures in 2023 were caused by a fire being used for warmth, light or cooking. Statistics include 91 fires that fell into that category in 2022 and 2023.