Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Mark Hebert

Getting around town and beyond

Phillips Transit Authority will pick you up


October 10, 2018

Mark Hebert

Mae Holt gets dropped off by Phillips Transit Authorities' bus driver Bill Pryor at Malta Elementary School on Wednesday.

With the first snow of the year covering the city streets last Wednesday, Bill Pryor guides his bus through Malta and his first rider of the day, Mae Holt, sits happily in her seat, safely buckled in, on her way to school at Malta Elementary.

"Riding the bus is awesome," Mae squeals. Mae is in the second grade and is picked up for school each morning at the Hi-Line Retirement Center where her mother, Janice Holt, is a nurse. Janice echoes her daughter's thoughts on the Phillips Transit Authority (PTA) bus rides to and from school each day.

"It's wonderful because it is so convenient," Janice said. "She hangs out with me here for a little bit and they come and pick her up, so she can get breakfast. It works out wonderfully for us."

On any given weekday, as many as 30 children are picked up at their homes and transported to one of the two school buildings, HeadStart, preschool and several daycares around town. Children can start riding the transit by themselves at age 4 and do so - door to door service - for just $1 per day.

Pryor guides the transit up Hillcrest and picks up his next two riders; Dylan and Conner Esaias. Dylan, 12, is headed to Malta Junior High and Conner, 4, is headed to HeadStart.

"I ride the bus every morning and afternoon," Dylan said. "I sometimes ride my bike, but it is nasty out today."

The PTA was formed in 2006 and has given over half a million rides since that time. In 2017 alone, the PTA gave a total of 31,878 rides and thus far in 2018, has had 25,028 passengers and traveled 67,661 miles (averaging anywhere from 70 to 95 riders per day.)

Betty Hasler, Coordinator at PTA, told the PCN that prior to the PTA being organized, most public transportation was known as "Good Neighbor" and catered to the elderly and disabled.

"It has been 10 years since we started transporting children to school," Hasler explained. "We cover the areas that aren't covered by the Malta School District. They can start riding at the age of four and they all know how to put on their seatbelts."

Hasler said that the misconception that the PTA buses are only for elderly still exists, and though area seniors do utilize the transits often, anyone can ride, and the PTA offers a wide variety of locations and activities to its riders.

"We would like to get away from the stigma that we only cater to one type of rider," she said. "This is public transportation and many members of the public are riding with us, but we always want to cater to more people."

PTA is funded through the Federal Government and the monies are distributed through the State of Montana. Hasler said that each year, PTA takes passengers to such places as the Slippery Ann Wildlife Viewing Area - the most recent trip was two weeks ago - offers rides to and from the Phillips County Fair each year, Saco Fun Days, provides transportation to events such as the Malta Chamber Putt Crawl and Malta Senior Meals (the next such meal will be the 'Harvest Soup and Bread" feed on Saturday, October 13, which is a free will offering.)

"We also offer free rides to church on Sundays," Hasler said. "Ridership is down for the churches lately, so if anyone needs a ride, give us a call and we will pick you up and drop you off at church and then pick you up and take you home after the services."

The PTA phone number is 406-654-5301 and the cell phone number is 654-7555. Hasler said that the PTA also offers out of town trips by appointment and, in the past, has also provided transportation for parties and weddings.

Currently, there are three full time and two part-time employees at the PTA (the PCN hopes to publish a photo of the drivers next week in the newspaper.) On Wednesday, Pryor picked up a total of six students, dropping them off at the proper schools. The children happily chatted with "Mr. Bill" on such topics as what the children will be for Halloween and what they had for breakfast.

"Soup and tacos," Conner says as the bus bounds toward HeadStart.

"Soup and tacos" Pryor quizzes?

"No, bananas and oatmeal," Conner changes his story.

"That sounds better," Pryor admits.


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