2009-01-15 / Front Page

Oglala Sioux Transit grand opening Jan. 30

By Lil Witt Special to the Times

Left: Transit coordinator Emma Featherman-Sam, bus drivers Russ Whalen and Ron Little Dog and office manager and liaison Deloris Bear Killer stand beside one of the 16 passenger buses. Above: The transit building east of Pine Ridge. Photos by LiL Witt Left: Transit coordinator Emma Featherman-Sam, bus drivers Russ Whalen and Ron Little Dog and office manager and liaison Deloris Bear Killer stand beside one of the 16 passenger buses. Above: The transit building east of Pine Ridge. Photos by LiL Witt PINE RIDGE — The Oglala Sioux Transit will be open and ready for passengers with a grand opening on Jan. 30.

The reservation wide transportation system will be open for business and ready for paying customers by the next Monday, Feb. 2.

Located east of Pine Ridge on Highway 18, the new transit building is home station to eight new passenger buses, five that can transport 16 passengers each and three that can hold 22 passengers each.

"The buses will provide reservation wide public transportation. That means anybody can ride them. And we are working on the fares now," said Deloris Bear Killer, officer manager and liaison. Eventually, if the demand is there, we will be expanding our route to include Rapid City and local towns surrounding the reservation, she added.

"Our service route is set so that buses from other towns will come into the station three times a day, starting before 8 a.m., and the town bus will make a circle through town every hour on the hour," Bear Killer said.

The bus schedule is set to include everybody's needs, from people who need to get to work, school or the hospital, to dialysis, visiting and even college students taking night classes. Because the town bus will run every hour, people will be able to make it to work on time, keep their morning appointments, run their errands or do their visiting, and then be able to leave instead of waiting around all day for a ride home.

Emma Featherman-Sam, transit coordinator, said the program is designed to help these people, the elderly, and anybody on a fixed income, with affordable transportation so they will not have to walk, or pay an unreasonable price to have somebody with a car transport them to their destinations. "I am very excited about all of this, because now people will be able to get across the reservation at an affordable cost," she said.

Featherman-Sam said all of the buses are equipped with a wheelchair lifts. The three larger buses are outfitted with bicycle carriers and also have the next scheduled stop displayed on their front and side, so passengers at bus stops will know which bus they need to get on in order to go where they want to go. She also said that all of the buses are installed with video camera surveillance for the safety and protection of both passengers and bus drivers.

In 2001 the tribe received a congressional appropriation or earmark of $2.2 million from the Federal Transit Administration. "That is where most of our funding comes from," Featherman- Sam said. And that money was used to build this building and purchase the buses. The combined cost of the five smaller buses was $459,000 and the combined cost of the bigger ones was right at $400,000, she continued.

Some of the FDA's funding comes down with matches, "So the tribe had to do a match of approximately half a million dollars or 20 percent," she said. To cover the cost of inflation from 2001 to present, the transit program received an additional appropriation of $594,000 and we had to do another match, she stated.

On grand opening day of Jan. 30, passengers can ride for free. Before then, they still need to find bus parking spaces, preferably in garages, in Wanblee and Martin so drivers can start from there instead of having to drive to Pine Ridge, get their bus and then drive all the way back to start picking up people.

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