Two shiny, new, larger buses rolled out on North Central Montana Transit routes this week.
Jim Lyons, NCMT director of transportation, was in the parking lot of the old Gary and Leo’s Fresh Foods building on 1st Street at 6:45 a.m. Wednesday to see the new 23-passenger bus off on its first route, the blue park and ride line to Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation.
“Twenty-three seats seems to be just about right for the way it’s been,” Lyons said. “And with the price of gas, and diesel too, skyrocketing it’s going to be very interesting to see how that effects ridership.”
Rising fuel costs are less of a concern for Lyons and the transit system because of one of the new buses’ selling points, it’s ability to use diesel with up to 20 percent made of biofuel content.
Each of the buses’ 23 seats is equipped with seat belts and individual reading lights for all of the seats.
The old buses could only seat 16, and without the amenities of the new one, although they both have the Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant hydraulic lifts.
One of the new buses will replace the system’s oldest bus, one they received for free from the Missoula public transportation system, that now has nearly 400,000 miles on it.
The buses cost between $150,000 and $200,000, and were paid for through federal stimulus funds. They were expected a few months ago, but only recently appeared.
“These buses are the same ones we were supposed to get last year,” Lyons said. “But due to some EPA requirements and some modifications, it was knocked back until Dec. 22, last we heard. Then they just showed up on Friday.”
The arrival was just in time, according to Lyons, as the first full year of operation carried 19,825 passengers on their routes across the Hi-Line.
“We average about 80 a day and it’s growing, as fuel keeps going up,” Lyons said. “People just can’t afford it any more.”