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Buses hit the streets


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Tim Leeds Havre Daily News [email protected]

The results of several years of planning and work hit the pavement Monday as the buses of North Central Montana Transit started transporting passengers. “Eleven people rode the bus today,” Jim Lyons, director of the transit system, said at a celebration by the Student Union Building at Montana State University-Northern. “We consider that a great start.” The system with initial funding through area partners, a Montana Department of Transportation $75,000 startup grant and $227,000 through the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to buy buses runs from Havre to Fort Belknap and Box Elder with stops at the communities in between and makes stops at several locations in Havre. Today marks the first run of the buses to Great Falls. That route starts in Fort Belknap and makes stops in Harlem, Chinook, Havre, Laredo and Box Elder before dropping off passengers starting at 10:10 a.m. at the bus transfer center and the two Benefis hospital campuses in Great Falls. The schedule has the bus picking up the passengers again between 2:30 and 2:50 p.m., stopping at the locations en route before it drops off its last passengers at Fort Belknap at 6:20 p.m. Several people used the bus to get to the launch celebration at Northern, which started at noon. “I called Barb (Stiffarm, executive director of Opportunity Link) and told her I needed a ride, so they came to the courthouse and picked me up,” Hill County Commissioner Mike Anderson said before the celebration started. Kathy Terbovitz of District IV Human Resources Development Council in Havre rode the bus to the celebration. She said she doubts she will use the bus. “But I know people who will,” she added. Karen Thomas, executive director of HRDC, also rode the bus to the celebration. “I will use it,” she said. “I will go to Great Falls on the bus.” Bruce James, who drove the route to Fort Belknap, said he had three passengers on the early morning trip. “As soon as the word gets around, I think it's going to go pretty well,” he said. The system has several ways for people to find its schedule, which director Jim Lyons said will be a work in progress. “This is a public transportation system,” he said, adding that as people identify needs for different times and routes the schedule can be adjusted. The schedule is available in both on-line and printable PDF format on the transit system's Web site and its Facebook page, as well as on hard copies available throughout the region. The Web site schedule also has a link to the schedule of the Great Falls Transit District. People can contact the transit system for more information at 265-3699. The Web page also has information about rules of conduct for the passengers and what items are allowed and prohibited on the buses. Several speakers at the event talked about the need of public transportation in the area. Northern's new chancellor, Frank Trocki, said he saw the impact a public bus had in the Boston area, linking a large part of Massachusetts with the metropolis. “Public transportation is vital to any city, any area,” he said. Trocki added that the system will make it easier for Northern students to get to class. “Now they have fewer excuses,” he said. Stiffarm told the crowd at the celebration that when people researched the creation of Opportunity Link, the anti-poverty organization based in Havre, providing transportation was identified as a top priority in the area. “We need to have buses transporting them to where they need to go,” she said. Anderson told the crowd that it was a great day to live in north-central Montana “Isn't this great?” he asked. “We have a beautiful day, and now we have buses to get us around.” None of the members of Montana's congressional delegation were able to attend the launch, but representatives of Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester read letters from the senators. In his letter, Tester said the system will bring new opportunities to the area, provide infrastructure that will help create jobs and improve the state's economy, and help bring self-sufficiency to the tribes at Rocky Boys' and Fort Belknap Indian reservations. “Affordable, reliable, safe and efficient transportation is important to all rural communities,” Tester wrote. In his letter, Baucus congratulated Stiffarm, Lyons and all who were involved in bringing the bus system to the area. “This new transit system is a great example of the good that can come from working together,” Baucus wrote, adding that he would continue to work to bring federal dollars to projects to benefit Montana. “The time has come to find transportation solutions that connect our rural communities, provide affordable transit alternatives, boost businesses and encourage economic growth,” Baucus wrote. On the Net: North Central Montana Transit: http://www.ncmtransit. org. Facebook: http://www.facebook. com/pages/North-Centra l - Montana-Transit/230554885213.


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