There are seven buses that Northern Transit Interlocal uses to give rides to people in Montana completely free of charge. It seems like an impossible feat, given gas prices and how popular the transit system is. But the work gets done, thanks to federal money and local donors such as hospitals and gas stations.
With how big Montana is, it's common to need a ride somewhere. Northern Transit Interlocal has been doing that for 15 years, giving rides to those that need it.
"Since I started here, we had only a few drivers at the time,” director David Irvin said. “And since that time now we operate seven different routes. A record year was in 2019. We gave 16,123 rides. But this year, even after COVID this year, I think we'll break that record by quite a bit."
They just received a national award as well for their service. The National Rural Transportation Leadership Award was given to NTI, who gives rides to an increasing number of passengers. They go anywhere from Kalispell to Great Falls and in between, mostly covering Cut Bank. It's a necessary job as more calls come in with winter around the corner.
"Our calls have increased quite a bit. It's pretty cool seeing what we can do to help,” dispatcher Shirlie Dubois said. “I've only worked here for about a year, so I've really learned a lot about the transit and it's growing just rapidly."
The award will be officially given next year, but in the meantime, the drivers continue to do what they love and help their community by getting people where they need to go.
Mike Bashor is one of them and has driven for NTI all 15 years of its existence.
"I just can’t stay in the house. I got to be doing something,” Bashor joked. “When we initially started, we only had two or three drivers and they started with all these different routes. I love driving and I've always loved travel. I've been to Europe 15 times; I just get everywhere. And I'm a people person. Yeah. I've been around the horn. I love it."
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