COVID impacted transit numbers, but they are back on the upswing

By 
Brendan Heidner Ranger-review Staff Writer
Sunday, January 23, 2022
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The Dawson County Transit ridership numbers follow the fiscal year, beginning July 1 and ending June 30.

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Dawson County Urban Transit driver Jim Skillestad fills out a rider record form as he waits for a passenger to board the bus. Brendan Heidner photo

The Dawson County Urban Transit system saw a drop in rides during the COVID-19 pandemic, however, numbers are seemingly increasing once again.

In the last five years, the height of the Dawson County Urban Transit’s ridership occured during fiscal year 2018 with 16,981 rides provided.

Since then, a report provided by Dawson County Urban Transit Administrator Leslie Hunter showed ridership slowly decrease through fiscal year 2021 to 14,177 rides.

According to Hunter, the drop occurred due to the impacts of COVID-19

“It dropped for quite a while because we were restricted on what we could carry,” she said, adding that it is slowly picking back up as people are “pretty cautious” yet.

However, as numbers do rise again, Hunter anticipates an end of fiscal year 2022 with ridership back above 15,000 rides.

“The need is just there right now,” Hunter said. “We tend to have more and more people who are needing the service or just find it much handier for them.”

While ride numbers were low, Hunter shared why she believes the Dawson County Urban Transit system is a benefit to the community, because of how many people use it. “There’s people that use it

“There’s people that use it that (don’t) have any other means of getting around,” Hunter said.

As many users of the Dawson County Urban Transit system are senior citizens, disabled or people without a vehicle, Hunter noted, “It gives them a way to be a little more independent that they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

One of Hunter’s six drivers, Jim Skillestad, said he drives people to and from the hospital, grocery stores, and their workplaces often.

Skillestad enjoys driving a bus as he gets to know his passengers and become friends with those who use the service of the Dawson County Urban Transit system daily.

“I’ve been (a driver) for about six years now and I just love it,” he said.

Not only does Skillestad get to assist local residents, but also visitors to town who need assistance on many different occasions.

“It’s really a blessing to help people like this,” Skillestad said.

According to Hunter, their service is mostly funded by a federal grant and some Dawson County mills to keep ride fares low and their service running.

“It’s very expensive to run and maintain buses and drivers and it helps pay wages,” Hunter said. “Without that, we wouldn’t be able to do it.”

Because of the grant and mills funding, Hunter said the fare for adults 55 and older and disabled is $1, $2 for students and $3 for anyone else calling for a ride.

The Dawson County Urban Transit runs their six buses from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m Monday through Friday.

To schedule a ride, call the Dawson County Urban Transit dispatch center at (406) 377-5024.

Reach Brendan Heidner at news@rangerreview.com.

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