County again nixes bus subsidy

Posted 5/21/09

The transportation authority, a joint powers board made up of public servants and transportation workers from across the Basin, is seeking to keep bus service in the Basin going by collecting $37,500. That sum was to be split among the Basin's …

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County again nixes bus subsidy


Park County will not help subsidize bus service in the Big Horn Basin, opting to run counter to the wishes of the Basin's other elected officials.After reconsidering the issue on Tuesday, Park County commissioners again voted against giving $4,687 to the Big Horn Basin Transportation Authority.

The transportation authority, a joint powers board made up of public servants and transportation workers from across the Basin, is seeking to keep bus service in the Basin going by collecting $37,500. That sum was to be split among the Basin's cities, towns and counties.

However, Park County commissioners — both last week and on Tuesday — said no, citing concerns with a tight budget and the fact that not all transportation services are subsidized.

The head of the transportation authority, Basin Mayor Phil Julliard, said to his knowledge, Park County is the only one of the 11 Basin governments that does not support the project.

On Monday night, the Powell City Council pledged its support to contribute its $853 share of the subsidy.

“There's a real need for public transportation, and as the mayor (Scott Mangold) said, it helps a lot of people out,” said Councilman Josh Shorb.

By raising the money, the Basin would qualify for $150,000 in state funds.

That $187,500 total would be used to subsidize the Basin's Black Hills Stage Line bus service and the Cody-Lovell shuttle.

Though one government pulling out doesn't necessarily doom the project, “it would be helpful if all entities participated, obviously,” said Rich Douglass, local government coordinator for the Wyoming Department of Transportation in a separate interview.

Having fewer governments on board “weakens the request,” he said.

Bus service in the Basin, long provided by Powder River Transportation, shut down in December 2007. But the transportation authority negotiated with Black Hills to get service running again last summer.

Julliard approached commissioners on Tuesday, in hopes they would reconsider the subsidy they nixed last week.

“This is, we hope, a one-time fund (request),” he said, designed to “give them (Black Hills) one year to make it profitable.”

Ridership has been fairly low.

Between July 2008 and February of this year, a total of 725 Big Horn Basin residents used the service; 150 of those were from Cody and 33 from Powell.

For Powell, that's an average of just over one passenger per week.

Julliard said the transportation authority has been advertising to get the word out.

“One of the criticisms we have is that no one thinks there's a bus around,” he said.

Linda Palmer — who runs the Cody-Lovell shuttle out of Palmer's Outpost in Cody — said ridership has been growing as people become aware of the service.

On days the bus has passengers — such as Wednesday — it stops at the Powell Maverik at 7 a.m.

“If I don't run the bus, they don't pay me that subsidy,” Palmer said.

She said Powell Mayor Scott Mangold has recommended finding a business willing to sell tickets in Powell, an option she wants to explore. Online sales are another possibility.

However, on Tuesday, Frank Alvarado, owner of Phidippides Cody Shuttle Service, told commissioners he opposed the subsidies.

“I don't get a penny from the Department of Transportation or anybody here,” Alvarado said. “I do what they (the bus lines) do, without a subsidy.”

He also said he didn't believe it was a one-time request.

“Next year they'll be here asking for once in a lifetime (subsidies). When is once in a lifetime over?” Alvarado said.

Julliard and Palmer said the bus service is distinct from the Basin's other transportation options.

A one-person trip to Billings on Cody Shuttle costs $125; a bus ticket, thanks in part to subsidies, costs $44.

Palmer said the bus service is more for trips planned in advance, and can go nearly anywhere in the U.S.

“Once we don't have a bus service in this Basin, we're isolated,” said Julliard.

Even if the transportation authority comes up with the full $37,500 and gets $150,000 from the state, that may not be enough.

A full year of bus subsidies costs closer to $275,000. State Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, put together a budget amendment slated to provide $250,000, with a $25,000 match from local governments.

But it got messed up when it was drafted, and the amendment instead called for a 25 percent match.

That required local governments to come up with $62,500 — $37,500 more than originally planned.

“To come up with that level of funding ... they (the transportation authority) felt it just wasn't plausible to do given the current economy and situation,” said Douglass.

Or, as Julliard put it, “Boy — there was just no way.”

So, instead, the Transportation Authority decided to ask governments to come up with $37,500 — enough to qualify for $150,000.

However, “That wouldn't be enough to fully fund the bus service for a full year,” said Douglass. WYDOT would likely need to find a new source of revenue.

On Tuesday, Julliard warned commissioners that there may not be another chance to keep buses in the area.

“Once we lose this ... I don't think we'll ever have another bus company come up this Basin,” he said.