Transit comes to the Crow Nation

The new agency grows quickly to meet demand in Big Horn County

By Oliver Hill

Crow Nation Transit brings needed service to the Reservation and surrounding communities in south central Montana.

Considering the high unemployment and poverty levels in the very rural Crow Nation, we badly needed a transit system. The subject had been under discussion for more than four years. The first two Crow Nation Transit minibuses began transporting passengers throughout the Crow County Reservation and Big Horn County in Montana in April 2011.
We got the wheels turning with the tribe by first asking the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) to contract LSC Transportation Consultants, Denver, CO, to conduct a formal study of the need for public transit in this region of Montana. They came back with a report that only confirmed community consensus that a very significant need existed and improved transit services could only help.
We created Crow Nation Transit, and with the help of the legal counsel for the Crow Tribe, submitted a grant application for startup funding with the Montana Department of Transportation, which award us $75,000.
The agreement stipulated that the new Crow Nation Transit would not just serve tribal members on the reservation, but also provide public transportation for all of Big Horn County and for students from outlying communities and Billings who attend Big Horn College. The operation transports passengers within approximately a 75-mile radius of Crow Agency, connecting the towns and communities that include Hardin, Lodge Grass, Pryor and Wyola. To reflect this, the board of directors includes a county commissioner, a representative from Big Horn College as well as the Crow Legislature and the Tribe’s director of tourism. We operate and maintain a small fleet of seven Ford and Chevy minibuses and conversion vans on our three initial routes.
With the organizational structure in place our new system received a $500,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration toward hiring agency personnel and covering our operational costs. Our future grant funding from the Federal Transit Authority over the next two years will ensure us a bus barn and bus stops along the routes.
In the short time we have been up and running, Crow Nation Transit has been operating temporarily from the Tribal fenced security yard. Because of the demand for service and the increasing ridership numbers we could show in each quarter of our first year, we will receive more 18-passenger minibuses in 2012 from the state and another through the Federal Transit Administration.
Ridership grew from 735 in the second quarter to 1,300 in the third quarter, and we were expecting to reach around 2,000 by the end of the year. When we began transit service in April, people were reluctant to take the bus, but they have been quick to catch on, especially when they consider the price of fuel for their own vehicles and that our bus routes take them to and from to where they need to go.
In fact, we are now at the point where some passengers get left behind on some trips as there is simply no more room on the bus. However, we do make the necessary arrangements for another driver to include an extra stop to return and pick them up. We currently have four drivers on staff and will add five substitute drivers in the near future to ensure continued service and to handle any overflow or emergency situation.
Because of public demand for new routes, we are presently considering service to and from Sheridan, WY, which would start next year. The folks in Sheridan are telling us they would like to see regular runs to the Apsáalooke Nights Casino in Crow Agency.  BR

Oliver Hill serves as transit director for the Crow Nation Reservation and Big Horn County, MT