Phillips County News - One Nation, Under God

By Mark Hebert
Publisher 

Transit staff readies for new bus barn

 

February 12, 2020

Mark Hebert

Phillips Transit Authority (PTA) drivers Candee Soennichsen and Scott Moran (left) and Wade Halser and Bill Prior (right) bookend PTA Coordinator Betty Hasler last week in Malta.

Mornings for the bus drivers for the Phillips Transit Authority (PTA) are going to look a lot different next winter...and feel warmer, for a little while at least, too.

A typical morning for any one (or all) of the PTA bus drivers on a dark February morning - be it Candee Soennichsen, Scott Moran, Wade Hasler, or Bill Prior - includes arriving before the sun has crested the eastern part of town in order to get the buses running and warm enough to operate and be comfortable for the riders.

"Nobody likes to go out and start a vehicle when it is 20-below, and it is even less fun when the vehicle doesn't start and the process of jumping them to start has to begin," PTA Coordinator Betty Hasler said. "The pre-trip inspections, which happens each morning for each bus, won't have to take place outside so we won't have to check the oil and kick the tires in freezing cold weather anymore."

This winter looks to be the last those drivers will need to freeze their fingers before transporting riders in Phillips County and beyond as a brand new, 60-foot x 80-foot, PTA bus barn will break ground soon.

"This will help us out in so many ways," Coordinator Hasler said. "It will save us in wages because our drivers won't have to get here so early to warm the buses. It's going to save us on the wear and tear of the vehicles. It will save us on fuel because the buses won't have to run as long, and we will have a wash-bay in the barn so we will have nice, clean vehicles all year round."

The PTA has applied for and received a $225,000 grant through the Capital Assistance Grant which is funded by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and administered by the Montana Department of Transportation. The Phillips County Hospital and Family Clinic has donated the land where the barn will be built on – also used as local match in the grant application -- and the PTA needed to come up with another $45,000 which came in the form of work to be done by the City of Malta Public Works team as well as contributions made to the PTA from local residents and riders. The total cost of the project will be $450,000 (85-percent federal, $67,000 local match.)

In the attempt to get a bus barn built for the PTA, a bus barn committee was formed about two years ago and was comprised of members of the PTA Board of Directors (including this reporter), the Malta City Council, members of the general public, Phillips County Commissioners, and Phillips County Hospital and Family Clinic staff. Their objective was to figure out if the PTA needed a bus barn, and if so, where to build it. The committee, led by its president, Jim Fauth, decided it should be built and when the Phillips County Hospital and Family Clinic Board of Directors generously elected to donate of land, the location was locked in.

"Jim did so much of the leg-work on this and has been invaluable to the whole project," Coordinator Hasler said. "The donation of the land really sealed the deal."

The PTA is a seven-day a week, often after-hours operation. It provides rides to students headed to schools, children headed to functions at Malta City Hall or the Malta Boys and Girls Club, to many senior citizens around town for local shopping and excursions out of town and county, as well as trips to the churches around Malta on Sundays for services. From young baseball players being transported along the Hi-Line for games in the summer to seniors heading to Slippery Ann in the fall to watch the elk, the PTA gets around...a lot.

Last quarter, October through December, the PTA had nearly 6,000 riders and drove a total of 12,252 miles. During 2,060 hours of operation that quarter, $4,550 was spent locally on gasoline and another $7,768 was spent on maintaining the buses. The fleet currently has eight buses in its fleet and two of those are about to be retired and the PTA will be applying for funds to replace them (the vehicles are 16 and 17-years-old.)

Coordinator Hasler said that each year, she hands out surveys for riders and local businesses to fill out so she can get community feedback on how the PTA is doing.

"We hear from both groups, all the time, how this is a needed and valued service in Phillips County," she read, flipping through the stack of surveys. "One business said that it is the only means of transportation for many people in Phillips County ... another business wrote 'when it is icy or the elderly need help getting into our building, the drivers take their time and help them, it's an excellent service. The rider's responses were also positive and supportive, and most let us know they appreciate the service."

 

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