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January 06, 2009 3:54 am

Bus service continues in Basin

Written by Tribune Staff

More ridership and possible subsidies needed to ensure bus runs continue

Bus service continues in the Big Horn Basin through Black Hills Stage Lines, and a shuttle bus runs twice daily as needed between Cody and Lovell with stops in Powell.

But that's not general knowledge, and long-term viability of the bus system remains to be seen.

“Ridership is still down... but we knew it would be down over the wintertime, anyway,” said Linda Palmer of LP Transportation, who drives the shuttle from Cody to Lovell and back.

Low ridership is one likely strike against a proposed bill that would seek $250,000 in state money to subsidize bus service in the Basin. The legislative session begins Tuesday, Jan. 13.

Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, said he plans to sponsor the bill, but low ridership might make it a hard sell.

“Every time I pass that bus, I see a lot of empty windows,” he said. “It's been such a hit-and-miss thing in the past, with Powder River (Bus Lines) pulling out. I think people just didn't use it as much after it went away for awhile.”

But that doesn't mean it's not needed or not important, he added.

“It would help in our efforts for economic development,” he said.

One of the first questions business owners ask when considering a move to a community in the Basin is about public transportation, he said.

“We don't have an interstate corridor going through the Big Horn Basin,” he said. Other than limited air service, “this is it for us.”

Palmer said bus service is vital for people who aren't able to drive or who don't have reliable transportation.

“Those who do ride say if we hadn't been here, they would not have been able to get where they were going,” she said. “I have had so many people, especially elderly people, basically tell me they have no other service out of this area, and they are so glad that we are willing to do this.

“I literally have to get up at 5 a.m. to do this, but it's a sacrifice that's worth it.”

Peterson noted that the bus line also provides bus service for Fremont County with a stop in Shoshoni, and a shuttle service transports passengers to Shoshoni from Lander and Riverton. In addition, Arrow/Black Hills Stage Lines provides two more bus runs daily along the I-25 corridor, giving more travel options to people in central and southeast Wyoming.

Peterson said ridership on the bus line should increase over time as people become more aware of the service.

“I think it will (increase), provided it's dependable and always there,” he said.

Palmer said one reason for the low ridership is a lack of money to advertise, combined with the fact that the bus line and shuttle service started up too late to be listed in this year's telephone book.

But, she added, “I still get three to five calls per day asking about things. It's all word of mouth. People are actually looking and saying, ‘There is a bus — how do I get there?' ”

Another challenge in asking for a subsidy, Peterson said, is the fact that the Legislature will have less money to work with this year than in the past several sessions.

But he said the fact that the state already provides subsidies to air service in Wyoming might make lawmakers more willing to consider the proposal.

Phil Juillard, chairman of the Big Horn Transit Authority, said he asked Peterson to sponsor the bill to help keep the bus running.

While the Wyoming Department of Transportation has provided federal money to subsidize bus service in the Big Horn Basin, “They don't know how long their funds will last,” he said.

According to information provided by Palmer, WYDOT officials advised the Big Horn Basin Transit Authority in September that, based on the first two months of service, the department would be unable to sustain a subsidy at a level needed to make the route work.

“We're on the wrong side of the mountain,” Juillard said. “We're sort of a forgotten entity.”

Juillard said it took several months to find a bus line willing to provide transportation after Powder River Buslines pulled out of the Basin.

Powder River first indicated it would discontinue bus service in the Big Horn Basin in 2001. At that time, representatives of municipal governments and the Wyoming Department of Transportation negotiated with Powder River officials, who reinstated bus service and the department providing a subsidy.

The subsidy prolonged Powder River's service to the Basin, but the bus line ultimately terminated bus runs here in December 2007.

The new Arrow/Black Hills Stage Line service began on July 9 of 2008.