Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Tim Leeds 

Transit system considers instituting fares

 


Bus system considers instituting fares

Tim Leeds

Facing a loss of local funding and planning against the possibility of federal funding decreases, the local bus system is looking into instituting a fare system.

Jim Lyons, director of North Central Montana Transit system, told people at a planning meeting Thursday that he wants to aggressively pursue improvements and expansion. Thus, he is finding ways to fund the system, which needs to find $150,000 in local matches to make up its fiscal year 2011-12 budget.

I don't want to look at cutting services, I want to look at expanding services, Lyons said. But, its all about money.

Lyons set a meeting for Monday to plan how a fare system could be implemented and what the rates would be. The system has provided free transportation on its regular lines since it kicked off in August 2009.

Lyons said the initial discussion of fares has included charging $1 per ride or perhaps for an all-day pass, possibly offering punch cards for multiple days, and charging $10 for the Great Falls trip, $20 round-trip for that route, which runs Tuesdays and Thursdays.

With the system required to submit its budget and operations report to the state Department of Transportation by March 1, seeing if the fare system could be in place by then will be part of the discussion.

John Healy, director of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation transportation system, said his service will soon implement at fare-based system.

Day Soriano of Opportunity Link Inc., the lead agency in the transit system, said state funds for the system cap out at $117,000 this year. With contributions from local governments and groups that were made last year uncertain for the coming fiscal year, the transit system is looking for the additional $150,000 to meet its expected expense of nearly $270,000.

Opportunity Link has committed $30,000 cash to the system, as well as in-kind services.

Last year, local governments chipped in some cash to help with the operation, although at levels lower than agreed to when the creation of the system was discussed.

Originally, Opportunity Link, Havre, Hill County, Blaine County, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Rocky Boys Indian Reservation and Montana State University-Northern agreed to pay $30,000 each toward the operation of the system if seven funding sources could be found.

In 2009, Northern and Opportunity Link each provided $30,000 cash with both also providing additional in-kind services and Havre and Hill County each provided $15,000. Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap each donated in-kind services.

Opportunity Link is the only of the agencies to provide funding so far this year.

Lyons said the system will continue to talk to local governments about contributing, but due to budget shortfalls faced by all in the area, he doubts they will contribute as much, if any, this year.

We will continue to discuss it with the cities and counties, as far as that goes, but we truly understand the budget constraints they are facing out there," he said.

Krystal Steinmetz, a member of the systems Transportation Advisory Committee, said she hopes the local governments will put something into the system. The governments get an estimated three-time return on their money, she said, with people traveling to work, shopping and using services such as clinics, hospitals and school, she said.

Money is tight for everyone, but I would hate to see governments back out, Steinmetz said. I dont think we would get it back.

Lyons said the operations of the system has both exceeded expectations and has increasing costs, although improvements could help offset that.

The initial study while the system was being planned projected it would transport between 200 and 350 people a month. The actual number transported in its first year of operations was 19,805 an average of 1,650 a month.

Lyons said the projection is for a ridership growth of 9.5 percent about 1,900 passengers.

I would hope it would be much, much more, he said.

Higher fuel costs could also result in higher ridership.

Lyons said the cost of the diesel for the buses offset somewhat by its partnership with Northern to use biodiesel produced in the universitys biofuel lab has jumped up more than 70 cents a gallon, and is expected to increase.

But the increase in diesel and gasoline costs also is likely to increase ridership, Lyons said.

Some work by the system should offset that and some other expenses, he added.

Three buses purchased for the system using a $227,000 grant through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are now in Havre, and higher fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs should help reduce expenses, Lyons said.

Other work, such as remodeling and upgrading the space leased from the county for the systems offices and garage, should reduce expenses. Lyons said the cost of heat and utilities for that building have been cut to less than half what they were initially.

Facing a loss of local funding and planning against the possibility of federal funding decreases, the local bus system is looking into instituting a fare system.

Jim Lyons, director of North Central Montana Transit system, told people at a planning meeting Thursday that he wants to aggressively pursue improvements and expansion. Thus, he is finding ways to fund the system, which needs to find $150,000 in local matches to make up its fiscal year 2011-12 budget.

I don't want to look at cutting services, I want to look at expanding services, Lyons said. But, its all about money.

Lyons set a meeting for Monday to plan how a fare system could be implemented and what the rates would be. The system has provided free transportation on its regular lines since it kicked off in August 2009.

Lyons said the initial discussion of fares has included charging $1 per ride or perhaps for an all-day pass, possibly offering punch cards for multiple days, and charging $10 for the Great Falls trip, $20 round-trip for that route, which runs Tuesdays and Thursdays.

With the system required to submit its budget and operations report to the state Department of Transportation by March 1, seeing if the fare system could be in place by then will be part of the discussion.

John Healy, director of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation transportation system, said his service will soon implement at fare-based system.

Day Soriano of Opportunity Link Inc., the lead agency in the transit system, said state funds for the system cap out at $117,000 this year. With contributions from local governments and groups that were made last year uncertain for the coming fiscal year, the transit system is looking for the additional $150,000 to meet its expected expense of nearly $270,000.

Opportunity Link has committed $30,000 cash to the system, as well as in-kind services.

Last year, local governments chipped in some cash to help with the operation, although at levels lower than agreed to when the creation of the system was discussed.

Originally, Opportunity Link, Havre, Hill County, Blaine County, Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, Rocky Boys Indian Reservation and Montana State University-Northern agreed to pay $30,000 each toward the operation of the system if seven funding sources could be found.

In 2009, Northern and Opportunity Link each provided $30,000 cash with both also providing additional in-kind services and Havre and Hill County each provided $15,000. Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap each donated in-kind services.

Opportunity Link is the only of the agencies to provide funding so far this year.

Lyons said the system will continue to talk to local governments about contributing, but due to budget shortfalls faced by all in the area, he doubts they will contribute as much, if any, this year.

We will continue to discuss it with the cities and counties, as far as that goes, but we truly understand the budget constraints they are facing out there," he said.

Krystal Steinmetz, a member of the systems Transportation Advisory Committee, said she hopes the local governments will put something into the system. The governments get an estimated three-time return on their money, she said, with people traveling to work, shopping and using services such as clinics, hospitals and school, she said.

Money is tight for everyone, but I would hate to see governments back out, Steinmetz said. I dont think we would get it back.

Lyons said the operations of the system has both exceeded expectations and has increasing costs, although improvements could help offset that.

The initial study while the system was being planned projected it would transport between 200 and 350 people a month. The actual number transported in its first year of operations was 19,805 an average of 1,650 a month.

Lyons said the projection is for a ridership growth of 9.5 percent about 1,900 passengers.

I would hope it would be much, much more, he said.

Higher fuel costs could also result in higher ridership.

Lyons said the cost of the diesel for the buses offset somewhat by its partnership with Northern to use biodiesel produced in the universitys biofuel lab has jumped up more than 70 cents a gallon, and is expected to increase.

But the increase in diesel and gasoline costs also is likely to increase ridership, Lyons said.

Some work by the system should offset that and some other expenses, he added.

Three buses purchased for the system using a $227,000 grant through the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are now in Havre, and higher fuel efficiency and lower maintenance costs should help reduce expenses, Lyons said.

Other work, such as remodeling and upgrading the space leased from the county for the systems offices and garage, should reduce expenses. Lyons said the cost of heat and utilities for that building have been cut to less than half what they were initially.

What transit fares could look like

The group planning the future of North Central Montana Transit discussed Monday various methods and rates that could be used if a fare system is implemented.

Jim Lyons said the initial estimate of revenue that would be produced would be a little less than $17,000, which figures a decrease in ridership usually initially experienced by transit systems when they switch to fare-based service.

That would help offset the projected $150,000 the system needs to come up with in local matches, although it would not pay it all — fares never pay the full cost of transportation systems, whether it be the Mountain Line busing system in Missoula or the national rail transportation system Amtrak, he added.

The group generally agreed in the end that if a fare system is started, it should be started system-wide, rather than starting with particular routes.

Lyons said the initial discussions have included setting a $1 per ride, or possibly $1 per day, fee on the routes from Fort Belknap to Havre and back and Box Elder to Havre and back, which include stops in Havre.

The $16,600 estimated revenue uses that charge for the twice-a-week trip to Great Falls, although the plan for that route is a higher fare — Lyons said it is the most expensive route for the system.

In its first year, the system carried about 3,100 passengers on the Great Falls route.

He initially suggested using a $10 fare each way, amounting to $20 round-trip.

Cindy Smith, executive director of Bullhook Community Health Center, said she thought that might be too much to start with. Smith suggested $10 round-trip for that route.

The group discussed the possibility of finding ways to offset the fare for people who can't afford it, including possibly using scholarships and setting free passes for clients of organizations that contribute funds for the system's operation.

Lyons said the buses now in use by the system already have locked fare boxes passengers would drop their money — exact change only — into.

The system also could offer purchases of passes or punch cards allowing a certain number of rides per purchase or unlimited rides over a period, such as a month.

The fare could, if details are worked out, potentially be implemented as early as March, to match the deadline for the system submitting its budget and operations report to the Montana Department of Transportation.

 

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