By Jerome Tharaud
Havre Daily News
On Thursday, Jeff Schroeder, 32,
was filling in for the regular driver at the North Central
Senior Citizens Center as he occasionally does, giving rides
to people like Howard Dolph, 78, and Marge McLean, 83. By
2 p.m. he had already given rides to more than 30 seniors,
"There's some days when we're completely booked and
they just can't get rides. So it makes it tough on some of
these people and their families," Schroeder said.
Transportation, whether across the Hi-Line's vast distances
or just across town to get to work, is a scarce commodity
for many in the area, old and young alike.
"Transportation is a huge issue, especially with younger
people," said Darrel Hannum, director of employment and
training at the District IV Human Resources Development Council.
He said HRDC uses its agency vehicle to help with transportation,
but that the service is only open to people in the employment
and training program.
"We find people that are hitchhiking just to make it
to work, and during the winter it's really difficult,"
Hannum said, adding that many of the people who need rides
live outside of Havre in places like Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation
and the Fort Belknap Indian Community.
Some services exist now through local agencies like the Hill
County Council on Aging, which operates the senior center,
and HRDC, but other funding sources may mean expanded services
in the future.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice said this week he has been trying for
two years to set up a bus service that would connect Havre
to Great Falls as well as towns to the east like Malta or
Glasgow and would stop at every town in between. He said people
have come to him and said they have doctor appointments in
Great Falls and need a way to get there.
"There's just got to be some way that these people can
get around," Rice said.
He said he's not trying to make it easier for people to leave
Havre to shop, and that he thinks a bus service would bring
shoppers from other places to Havre.
"This would be good for Havre too because people from
Glasgow could come to Havre to shop, or people from Malta
could come to Havre to shop. So it's kind of a win-win situation,
the way I look at it," he said.
So far Rice's efforts have not met with success, but that
may change soon. After meeting with officials from the Montana
Department of Transportation this week, Rice said he has learned
of possibilities for subsidies that could help Havre start
up a service.
Dick Turner, a bureau chief in the Transportation Planning
Division of the Montana Department of Transportation, said
the best chance for Havre to set up its own transit service
is with a grant from the Federal Transit Administration specifically
for rural public transportation. The program awards money
for operations costs and capital assistance like computers
or a shuttle bus.
The process is competitive, and a local match is required,
Turner said. The application deadline this year is Feb. 2.
The program already supports transit programs in about 10
other towns in Montana, including Browning and Glasgow, Turner
Turner said the service has generally been used to transport
people within towns. But there is another federal funding
program that could help subsidize a commercial bus line to
Rimrock Trailways used to have a line connecting Great Falls
and Havre several years ago, Turner said, but it was not financially
viable. Federal funding could make that kind of route more
viable, he said.
Lindy Brekke, co-chair of the transportation team for the
North Central Montana Community Ventures Project and a training
consultant at Havre Job Service, said the biggest transportation
need is helping people get to work.
"A lot of folks' cars are older, or they might have
some auto repairs, so it's not running at the moment. If those
individuals can't get to work because their car won't start,
they'll lose their job," Brekke said. Transportation,
she said, is a significant part of the plan prepared by the
Community Ventures Project that earned a $12 million grant
from the Northwest Area Foundation in December for an 11-county
region in north-central Montana.
Evelyn Havskjold, director of the Hill County Council on
Aging, is applying for a new TransADE grant, available for
the first time this year. The state grant is paid for by a
25-cent fee on each license plate registration.
If the Council on Aging is awarded the grant in 2005, it
could use the money to expand the number of trips it provides
to Great Falls and also offer taxi vouchers for the elderly
and handicapped when a driver isn't on duty.