Group discusses bus planning
June 8, 2009
Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]
A group of local leaders met Friday to discuss the next steps in creating a public busing system in the Havre area. At the meeting, Dave Kack of Montana State University's Western Transport Institute presented a tentative schedule, including runs from Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy's Indian reservations to Havre and runs from Havre to Great Falls twice a week. “I think we're getting close to a minimum we want to see ,” Kack said. “It's come a long way . It looks like in six weeks we'll have a bus system running.” Opportunity Link, an anti-poverty organization based in Havre, is coordinating an effort to start a public busing system in the area. The Havre region has been without a busing service for some two decades. The plan is to run the buses without charging fares, with three buses departing and returning to each reservation area Monday through Friday and buses running to Great Falls on Tuesday and Thursday. The group also is looking for a name for the transportation system and is holding a contest to have people suggest names. Kack said that the system will be a work in progress the Bozeman system the transportation institute has been running three years still being revised and changed as issues arise and suggestions are made. The tentative schedule for the north-central Montana system could be significantly revised before the system starts running and could regularly be changed under the Director and governing board as ways to improve it are found, he said. Creating an administration Some of the next steps will be hiring a transportation director. Barb Stiffarm, executive director of Opportunity Link, said she has several applications for that position and may start interviews as early as today. Then a governing board would be created to work with that director to set and maintain the system's policies. The local group has been awarded two grants, an operational grant of $75,000 through the state Department of Transportation and $227,000 through the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act with which it plans to buy three buses. “The good news is, yes, we have some money where we will be able to get some buses,” Stiffarm told the group. One of the points discussed at the meeting was finding a seventh funding par tne r. Six groups, inc luding Opportunity Link, have written letters saying they would contribute to the transportation system if a total of seven funding entities are found. So far, Opportunity Link, Hill County, Blaine County, Fort Belknap, Rocky Boy and Montana State University-Northern have said they would help fund the effort if a total of seven groups are found. The transportation institute, a division of MSU's College of Engineering, is working with the group planning a north-central Montana transportation system. The institute helped create a busing system in Bozeman that started three years ago, and a system running to Big Sky. Kack said when the institute started working on the Bozeman system, called Streamline, people said the residents would never use the service. Now, on some days more than 1,000 people ride the buses, he said. “We had people saying no one would ride it,” he said. “Now they're saying we need a larger bus.” Kack said some temporary buses have been found which the group could lease until permanent buses are purchased. He said he would be able to confirm if at least two, from Head Start in Bozeman, are available after June 18. Kack said he expects the buses the system will purchase with the federal money to be arriving no later than December. A tentative schedule The schedule Kack presented included three runs from Fort Belknap Monday through Friday, with each starting at the Fort Belknap Agency with stops in Harlem and Chinook then looping through Havre. C. John Healy Jr., transportation director at Fort Belknap, said the reservation already has started its own system. Fort Belknap began running buses from Hays to the Fort Belknap Agency and back in March, he said. The tentative stops in Havre include arriving at Montana State University- Northern, then to Northern Montana Hospital, a downtown stop, a stop on U.S. Highway 2, one at the Holiday Village Mall then Wal-Mart. The bus would pick up passengers at Wal-Mart an hour later, then return along its previous route. The tentative schedule includes one bus leaving Fort Belknap at 7:30 a.m. and returning to the agency at 11 a.m. The next Fort Belknap run would start at 11:30 a.m. and return at 3:30 p.m., with the last bus starting at 3:30 p.m. and returning at 6:40 p.m. The Rocky Boy runs would start at Box Elder, stopping at Laredo and then at locations in Havre. The first planned stop is at Wal-Mart, followed by the Holiday Village Mall, a stop on U.S. Highway 2, a downtown location, at Northern Montana Hospital, Montana State University-Northern and then back along its previous route. The tentative times for the Rocky Boy routes include the first run starting at 7:30 a.m. and returning at 9:20 a.m., the next starting at noon and returning at 1:50 p.m. and the last starting at 4 p.m. and returning at 5:50 p.m. The Great Falls runs, tentatively planned for Tuesdays and Thursdays, would start at Fort Belknap at 7 a.m. and make stops in Harlem, Chinook, Havre and Laredo and before arriving at Great Falls at 10 a.m. Kack said that system would likely make several stops in Great Falls including connecting its passengers with the city transportation system. One of the keys in a Great Falls system would be monitoring the passengers and having a radio and cell phone system to make sure no one is accidentally left behind, Kack said. Educating the public Kack said a key to making the system work will be making sure people know the bus is running and what its schedule is. For example, he said, people will have to make sure doctors in Havre know they have to meet a timetable with the buses and schedule appointments accordingly. Ila McLenahan, who was representing the hospital at the meeting, said she was certain the local medical community would be able to work around the schedule. Kack said people are generally willing to work around the schedule. For example, he said, most employers are willing to let someone come to work at 8:15 a.m. instead of 8 a.m., possibly working 15 minutes later to make up the difference. Tom Tucker of Opportunity Link said it also will be important to educate the riders. Because people in the region may not be used to using public transit, they will have to learn how to read and utilize the system and its timetable, he said.