The familiar transit building at 200 East Hospital Road in Browning is slated for a major upgrade aimed at expansion to coincide with expanded service to the booking community.
“The problem is that before we only had five vehicles, and now we have 13 vehicles and our facility barely houses the old fleet,” said Blackfeet Transit manager Warren Blackman.
Transit is expected to add 35 feet of space on one side and an additional 70 feet in the central part to accommodate new bus bays and washing areas, offices for an additional dispatcher and administrator, and a conference room. for meetings and training sessions. Landscaping and an expanded parking lot will complete the package.
This is all the result of a $1,375,920 grant from the Federal Transit Administration, which Blackman applied for and received. The competitive grant was the only one awarded to a Montana tribe and one of only three awarded to Montana entities overall. The Blackfeet Tribe then matched 20% of the grant at $343,980 to arrive at a total of $1,719,000 available for the project.
To keep pace with the growth of the department, Transit has hired three additional drivers and announces a fourth as well as a dispatcher. This corresponds to the growth in traffic, which has gone from an average of 25 per day to more than 88 per day.
“With inflation and gas prices, it costs us about $24 to pick people up,” Blackman said. “We cover $23 and only charge $1 per passenger.”
Currently, Transit is open four days a week, Monday through Thursday from 7:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Three buses depart from the IGA parking lot, one each going to Kalispell and Great Falls and the third going back and forth to Cut Bank five times. one day.
“There’s a need for it because we have patients with medical appointments — that’s what the Kalispell race is about, to help with dialysis, cancer and medical services,” Blackman said. “A lot of people are coming out of hospital with no way to get home. Sometimes I see people walking towards Cut Bank – everyone has a reason to go – so I told the drivers to pick them up .
Even as the number of people served by Transit continues to grow, Blackman notes that people sometimes misinterpret its name to imply limitations on who could use the service.
“People thought we were limited to tribal members, but that’s not the case,” he said. “We are open to the general public.
With a 7 a.m. opening hour, Blackman notes that people can use Transit to get to work on time. But there is more to come.
“We want to include Fridays, so we’re trying to expand the schedule,” he said. “We want to do Fridays and Saturdays, and we will achieve that with increased funding and services. I have applied for a state grant for two AWD vehicles, and a third is still pending for two more AWD vehicles and for out of town service.
From last January to March, Transit covered about 16,000 miles, but from last April to June, it went to about 39,000 miles. Going forward, Blackman said he wanted to include service to Heart Butte, East Glacier Park and Babb.