2013-12-05 / Front Page

Transit to begin new hours early

Hour change, new phone system approved by county

MANISTIQUE – Expanded hours approved as part of a Schoolcraft County Public Transit millage may go into effect earlier than anticipated, following recent action by the Schoolcraft County Board of Commissioners. The hours will now include a Friday night and Saturday service.

Although transit will not collect millage funding to pay for the hour expansion until next year, SCPT Director John Stapleton said the demand is enough to warrant an earlier start date. In order to finance the implementation, the transit board met with the county’s auditor to discuss possibly using the transit fund balance.

“They (auditors) feel that the balance we have in there is not necessarily too high or too low,” he said. “My concern would be, at some point in time, if we continue to put into that fund balance, it’s probably going to look poorly on the transit system.”

Stapleton explained that, at the current rate of millage, the transit has nearly two years worth of operational costs in the fund balance. At the end of this year, they will have approximately $388,470 in that balance, he added, leaving plenty to cover the out-of-pocket needed for the hour expansion.

Expanded hours originally proposed while campaigning for the millage have changed slightly, Stapleton said. Instead of running from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and then from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Saturday, the transit will offer all-day service.

“We’d probably be better suited if we ran straight through to the end of the evening, rather than have a gap in there,” he said.

Stapleton said they would need to hire enough part-time employees to cover the 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and the 6 p.m. – 2 a.m. shifts that day, as well as the extended hour of service (until 6 p.m.) on weekdays. A total of four part-time employees would cover the extension he said.

In addition to hiring new employees, the transit will also need an updated phone system before they can take on extended hours and, possibly, more customers.

“Our current phone system just doesn’t have the technology we need to be able to … forward calls to a cell phone properly,” he said. “I think we’ll get a big black eye if we don’t try to do this the right way.”

The estimated cost of upgrading the transit’s phone system is $3,772.39, he said. That, coupled with the employees’ new shifts, fuel, and other factors, will cost the transit approximately $21,000 to run extended hours until the millage funds are collected.

Stapleton said he hopes to have the phone system up and running and new hours in place by mid- December.

“We couldn’t necessarily do this without voter approval,” he said. “There’s a lot of anxious people out there; we’re getting a lot of phone calls.”

When Commissioner Dan LaFoille brought up concerns of liability, running the transit during late-night/early morning hours, and a lack of local police presence, Stapleton again emphasized the demand.

“Manistique is pretty quiet around 10 or 11 o’clock at night,” he said. “In some of these establishments, it wouldn’t be unheard of to see 100 to 200 people in there at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

Stapleton also noted the buses are equipped with cameras with night vision and that riders would be reported to the police if any disturbances occur.

“It’s a privilege to ride the bus,” he said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to allow Stapleton to post for four part-time employees, purchase and install a new phone system and to come up with a start date for the new hours.

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