The Christmas tree at the Billings MET Transit station is going to have make room underneath for two new buses.
The city learned last week it has received a $840,000 federal transportation grant, which will be used to buy two new buses and install several of tech upgrades for its bus fleet to make riding easier for passengers with disabilities.
The federal Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program is competitive, and Kevin Ploehn, director of transportation for the city, said it was awarded at just the right time.
“We are just about ready to order new buses so this is very timely as now we should be able to order 10 new buses, which are much needed,” he said.
It’s the second year in a row MET Transit has received a competitive federal transportation grant. Last year the department was awarded $1.36 million for its fleet and services.
“Given that we are competing with the rest of the country we are feeling very fortunate,” Ploehn said.
Helping in the process was a letter of support from Sen. Steve Daines. In addition to the $840,000 awarded to Billings, an additional $510,088 will go to North Central Montana Transit buses and bus facilities. North Central Montana Transit serves communities on the Hi-Line.
“This funding will also help ensure we have the resources needed to help improve the quality of life in Billings and north central Montana,” Daines said in a statement.
The technology upgrades for the Billings fleet will include automated passenger counters, automated location voice annunciators and digital signage at the transfers centers.
MET Transit has an operating annual budget of $5,696,264. Along with that amount, this year the department will spend an additional $3,389,463 — money that comes for a special capital fund that allows for large equipment purchases. This year, that’s the new buses the city plans to buy.
The $840,000 grant will allow the city subsidize two new buses from its capital fund.
City busing has its own dedicated fund in the city’s budget; it does not come from the general fund. Instead, the busing system is paid for through dedicated property taxes, grants, fares and advertising.
Specifically, $2.6 million comes from an annual federal operating grant; $2.3 million comes a local transportation levy, $594,000 comes from fares, and $174,350 comes from the advertising that appears on buses and other transportation property, and other sources of income like concessions.
In all, MET Transit pulls in $5,694,940 in revenue, which is $1,324 less than its operating budget.