Carbon County Public Transportation says, “This is happening!”

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, December 13, 2018
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Courtesy photos
Red Lodge, Roberts and Bridger had the most need for transportation services.

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A countywide survey showed a lot of interest in public transportation.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation (RLACF) hosted an update on the plans for public transportation in Carbon County. The event was held in Old Roosevelt School and about 25 people attended. It was advertised with the words, “This is happening!” LSC Transportation Consultants, of Colorado, (LSC) prepared an interim report.

Jason Miller, transportation planner, of LSC, made the initial presentation. The firm was hired to create a countywide transportation plan. He spoke on the interim report about the current needs of the county. The final report will come out in March, 2019. 

The goal is to have the main funding from the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT). “This is not just a concept,” said Miller. “The MDOT has indicated possible funding, real funding to set up transportation funding. This has a high likelihood of being funded.” He did say there were challenges. 

Buses of various kinds were the most likely solution to public needs. “Every public transportation road is subsidized by some public funding,” explained Miller. 

After initial update, the group was dispersed to different areas of the room with standing pads entitled with various transportation concerns where they could add their comments and ideas.  

The whole concept “kicked off in Sept.” according to Miller and this was the second stage of the process. They are making a five year plan with the goal of possible funding as soon as possible. MDOT indicated $30,000-$60,000 was available yearly for grants. Miller lauded it as a “relatively stable” funding source for rural areas with the state competently administering federal funds. 

The MDOT grant application is due in early March. Funds would become available late summer or early fall. 

“When we’re talking about public transportation it must be available for all,” said Miller. It cannot be just medical transportation (for example).” A range of services was explored.

Matching funds would be required. An example given was “$60,000 federal funds (administered by the State), $35,000 matching.” Similarly, the City would have to come up with matching funding for capital funding such as vehicles, with the State paying $80,000, for example, and the City paying $20,000. 

Entities eligible to receive the funds should not be profit making, and could include government or nonprofits. 

Such local entities can also provide funding for matching funds as well as local businesses. Ideally, the source would have a secure, tax based revenue such as funds coming from the City or County.

A local survey taken reflected similar demographics to the county population. It showed that Red Lodge has the most population in the county and the oldest population (60 percent over 55). It also had the most in need (disabilities, etc.). 

There was the possibility of a demand route (individually scheduled and called up) or fixed routes with fixed schedules. Small vans or 12 passenger buses could be used depending upon the number sought to be included for the various destinations. Initial purchases could be around $40,000 for the accessible mini-van and $60,000 for the 12 passenger bus. Leases were an option for such things as seasonal trips. 

The City is exploring all options: The possibility of a van to Red Lodge Mountain during season, trips to Billings and local service between towns among the county. 

The trips could occur several times a day, weekly or several times a month. The research by LLC looked at similar towns such as Forsyth and Livingston and the services they provide. Some towns provided regional trips, some did weekend service; there was demand as well as fixed service, so the comparisons showed a range of alternatives based on community needs. Miller stressed the solution should be locally planned according to needs, not imposed from outside.

Respondents to the survey closely mirrored the city facts. Eighty-four percent of respondents were from Red Lodge. Transportation from Red Lodge, Joliet and Roberts were the top favored serviced routes desired in the public survey, in descending order. Red Lodge, Joliet and Bridger had the most population density and also the most need. 

For in county transportation, the survey listed Red Lodge as the most popular destination. 

For demand response a typical cost was 8,700 trips a year, needing about 3 or 4 buses, with a budget of $250,000-$350,000. Fixed route demand operating in Red Lodge going to Billings would be about 24,000 trips a year, 2-3 buses, would cost about $250,000.

Shopping, medical reasons and personal business were the most popular reasons with 1-5 days a week the most popular.  Others wanted recreation transportation. Billings was the top destination.

Although 55 percent wanted transportation to Billings Airport, the idea was disregarded as being too difficult to plan for the public and already having a solution with an existing town taxi service, Red Lodge Taxi being the only service in the county. The plan would seek to fulfill needs that had no alternative for public transportation.

Fares could not be used for the matching funds and did not drive profit. Some trips could be fare based and others could be free depending upon the community’s needs, desires and the budget. There could be a subscription basis for repeat trips by regular customers. 

One challenge Miller mentioned was that the ride to Billings would probably involve about a four hour delay for return, which might make medical visits more complicated.  

Final plans could be put into action as early as fall, 2019. 

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