Buses queue up at the downtown transfer center

MET Transit buses queue up at the downtown transfer center in 2011.

Transit and amenity upgrades – everything from purchasing refurbished MET Transit buses to installing smart phone apps to reassure riders their bus is on the way – may be in the works for residents who take more than a half-million bus and paratransit rides annually, journeying nearly 800,000 miles along Billings streets.

The future of the city’s public transportation system is on the agenda for Monday’s Billings City Council work session, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 220 N. 27th St.

According to material in the council’s Friday packet, 17 coaches are needed to update MET Transit’s aging fleet. Seventeen new coaches would cost $7.65 million, while refurbishing as many buses carries a $4.42 million price tag.

During the last four years, bus parts and coach repairs have averaged about $300,000 annually.

MET Transit ran an $815,000 deficit in 2015, but revenues have exceeded expenditures by about $500,000 during each of the past two years.

For between $500,000 and $1 million, MET Transit could add four technology features: auto pay or e-pay, e-ticket reading technology, a passenger counter device, and an automatic vehicle locator or bus locator app.

MET Transit officials are considering offering bus service on a trial basis to Billings Logan International Airport, delaying fare rate increases and implementing the bus locator app/automatic vehicle locator.

They plan to replace three or four aging coaches with refurbished buses, then evaluate what effect that has on repair bills, among other possible costs. Officials said they’ll continue working on building reserves by seeking new revenues and monitoring expenses.

For the time being, they aren’t considering asking the council to ask voters for a mill levy increase, but additional mill levies may be required in the near future.

Draft Capital Improvement Plan

Over the next five years, 152 projects worth more than $402 million are planned.

Once again, the 71 public works projects worth nearly $232 million top the field. Led by a new airport terminal, aviation and transit projects are the second-largest category – 35 projects at nearly $88 million.

78 projects that will cost more than $68 million are in the plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

The council is scheduled to act on the five-year plan during its March 26 business meeting.

The 2018-19 equipment replacement plan includes 62 items worth about $8.5 million. That cost is scheduled to rise to about $14.1 million during 2019-20 before settling down to about $8 million each in both FY 2021 and 2022. The next year, 2022-23, the plan is for equipment expenditures to once again jump, to $14.4 million.

Other topics, including an update on interim work going on at the Montana Legislature, a response to One Big Sky Center term sheets and discussion on a proposed franchise contract with Bresnan Communications, are also on the agenda. Material on those discussion items was not included in the Friday packet.

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City Government Reporter

City reporter for The Billings Gazette.