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New bus rolls in local transit system


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The first of three brand-new buses is on the road in north-central Montana, transporting passengers on the North Central Montana Transit system routes. Jim Lyons, director of the transit system, said a 15-passenger Dodge Sprinter bus began running routes Monday. Two more 21-seat buses are expected to arrive in the first quarter this year, Lyons said the routes continue to be busy, illustrating the success of the free bus service that started in August. "For many people, now it is an essential service," he said. "This is what people rely on to get to and from work, to get to and from the hospital, the college. They structure their life around it." Monday through Friday, the system provides transportation to and from Havre, within the city, from the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy agencies and communities in between. It also provides transportation to and from Great Falls on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It has provided transportation for special events and on weekends during the Christmas season. The transit system was started last year with a $75,000 startup grant from the Montana Department of Transportation and received $227,000 through the federal American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, which it is using to purchase the three new buses. Its creation was spearheaded by the Havre-based anti-poverty organization Opportunity Link Inc. Local governments and groups including the governments of Hill and Blaine counties, Rocky Boy's and the Fort Belknap Indian reservations, the city of Havre and Montana State University-Northern have provided support. The system has exceeded expectations, Lyons said. In the planning phase, it was estimated the system's buses would transport 200 to 300 passengers a month. By November, it was transporting nearly 100 people a day at times. The system also has provided jobs in the area, with four drivers and a part-time maintenance person working with Lyons, as well as helping with a new role the system took over last month — helping to operate the Havre City-County Airport. Lyons said things are continuing to be busy with the transit system, with the buses filled near capacity at times on certain routes. He said the route to Great Falls and back has been heavily used, and the interest in the transportation inside Havre also is growing. He said the morning route toward Fort Belknap and its return trip in the late afternoon is heavily used, although fewer passengers usually ride on the morning return trip and the afternoon trip toward the agency. Changes are being looked at , including a revision of the route list which soon will be printed. Other possible changes include providing bus service to and from the airport and extending the service to western Hill County. "We are still kind of identifying interest in that area," Lyons said about the we s t e rn par t o f Hi l l County. ——— On the Net: North Central Montana Transit: http://www.ncmtransit.org


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