It has been 18 months since Souris Basin Transportation started work on their new transit facility, but they are now in operation at their new location at 805-31st St. SE, just north of the City of Minot Public Works building.
Their old location at 309-1st Ave. NE was damaged in the 2011 flood.
Souris Basin Transportation is a rural public transportation system that provides paratransit and public transit services to seven counties in the area, including Bottineau, Burke, McHenry, Mountrail, Pierce, Renville, and Ward, plus the city of Minot, and all vehicles are handicap accessible. The program, started in 1979, was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide rural transportation, and in 2009 the Minot Commission on Aging merged with Souris Basin public transit services, explained executive director Darrell Francis.
Darrell Francis, executive director of Souris Basin Transportation, sits in the driver’s seat of one of the buses parked outside the facility. Souris Basin Transportation has recently moved to their new location at 805-31st St. SE, Minot. They provide paratransit and transit services to seven area counties including Bottineau, Burke, McHenry, Mountrail, Pierce, Renville and Ward.
One of the Souris Basin Transportation buses sits in the parking lot on Thursday afternoon. Ridership has increased, but finding enough qualified drivers has been a problem.
Souris Basin Transportation is a non-profit organization, not a government-run agency, he noted.
The ages of riders on the Souris Basin buses has a wide span. The biggest wall, however, said Francis, is that people think the service is just for seniors, but it is for everyone. Souris Basin Transportation provides 86,000 rides a year, he added, and 80 percent of their riders are elderly or disabled.
Hours of operation for the paratransit and transit services are Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Francis said the only holidays the buses do not run are New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Before the expansion, Souris Basin Transportation was located at 309-1st St. S.E. in Minot. After the flood, they made repairs on the building and now use it as their maintenance, training and storage facility, said Francis. It was bought in 1998 and the business outgrew the building, he added. They were without office space for six months after the flood and used one of the lunchrooms at Minot Commission on Aging, Francis explained. "We're very grateful to them and Roger Reich and their staff," he noted, and were able to continue to function except for one day during the flood.
The new shop in southeast Minot opened last Dec. 16, Francis said, and was funded through stimulus money from the government from 2009. It consists of offices and bus storage. Recently, Souris Basin Transportation held an open house at their new facility that was well attended by people from the North Dakota Department of Transportation, contractors and the public, he said. Tours were given of the facility and refreshments were provided.
"Business is increasing, especially in city limits," Francis noted, so Souris Basin Transportation is looking at expanding some of its routes.
"This past year we're looking at an 8 percent increase. Before 2009, we were just rural so from 2009 to 2010, we went from 30,000 to 80,000 riders so that was the biggest jump," explained Francis. Souris Basin Transportation will also be part of the city bus service study that will look at short-term, medium term, and long term in consideration of the need for new and extended routes as well as extended hours and fare prices. The study will determine how to serve the most people and the elderly and disabled riders in the best way. Francis said the city provides Souris Basin Transportation with three buses.
The paratransit system with Souris Basin Transportation is a complementary service to a fixed route system, Francis noted, so they encourage anyone who can ride the fixed route to ride that route system. "It's not free, but people kept thinking it was free," he remarked. "The word complimentary confused people."
One thing that has been difficult for Souris Basin Transportation is the difficulty in finding qualified drivers, Francis said.
"Recruiting and retaining drivers has been the biggest challenge and has been for two years."
They have the funding and the vehicles, but not enough people to drive. Souris Basin Transportation doesn't require a CDL, either, he added. "The drivers will determine our routes and if we don't have the drivers, then we can't sustain our routes. It's happening across the state and still a big problem."
Francis said Souris Basin Transportation is currently working on a new website. They're also working with the City of Minot on marketing the bus service to get the word out about their service.
People interested in using Souris Basin's transportation service can call the center at 839-7433 or 852-8008, but reservations need to be made 24 hours in advance.
"This is a man-responsive route dependent on where people are and where they want to go. We're trying to serve the elderly and disabled as much as we can."