The local bus system — which has ran without charging its users since it started in August 2009 — is moving forward with plans to implement a fare system on its routes, its executive director said.
“You’ve got to be realistic, you’ve got to cover your costs,” said Jim Lyons, director of the North Central Montana Transit system.
Lyons said the consensus at a meeting this week was that the system should move forward with setting fares, possibly starting in the beginning or middle of March.
“It was pretty much a resounding yes,” he said.
The transit system has far exceeded expectations, transporting more than five times the predicted number of passengers in its first year of operation.
It provides twice-a-week service to and from Great Falls, and daily routes from Fort Belknap and Box Elder to Havre, with stops at points in between as well as within Havre itself.
The topic of implementing a fare system was raised at a meeting in December at which the bus system staff members, representatives of Opportunity Link Inc. — the lead organization for the bus system — and representatives of other groups and agencies discussed how to make sure the system is sustainable.
Concerns raised at that meeting were that federal transportation funds, a major component of public transportation funds, could be cut in the next round of federal authorization for transportation funding, and that money provided by local governments and entities may not be available this year.
Lyons said the process is in the early stages. He will be visiting with representatives of the transit system in Great Falls — “There’s no sense reinventing the wheel,” he said — and the group working on the issue will continue to discuss details.
That could include how local entities and agencies could help their clients, including the possibility of an agency buying 100 tickets for $100 to distribute to its clients, or using some other procedure.
The work will continue until the recommendations are presented to the transit system’s board, Lyons said.
“Nothing is set in concrete,” he said.