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New countywide transportation service gaining riders

| January 11, 2007 11:00 PM

By GWEN ALBERS Western News Reporter

A new countywide bus service has made life easier for Jim and Donna Valentine.

Their 15-year-old daughter, Anna, takes the bus almost daily for $4 round-trip from their home in Troy to Kootenai Valley Christian School in Libby and Libby High School. That means less running to Libby for the Valentines.

"It's was sometimes hard to come and get her when she needed a ride," Jim Valentine said.

The couple can thank the recently formed Lincoln County Transportation Services. Initiated in October, the government funded service's eight, 12- and seven-passenger buses and vans will transport anyone anywhere within the county and for minimal fees and roundtrip to Kalispell for $10.

"It's not limited to seniors or the disabled. It's for anyone who may be transportation challenged," said Lee Ludden, coordinator for the service. "Maybe your vehicle isn't running good. Maybe it's not safe enough. Maybe you don't like to drive in the winter. This is a community service not only for individuals but for agencies."

Anyone who lives in Libby and wants to shop or go to appointments here, can do so for $2. The same holds for Troy and Eureka.

"On Fridays we go to Pamida, the grocery stores and the banks," said Dolores Hersman of Libby, who gave up driving two years ago at age 89. "The bus has been good."

Barbara Napier, who doesn't drive, also takes the bus to shop in Libby, and once a month she takes it to Kalispell.

"I shop until I drop," said the 61-year-old Libby woman.

The round-trip fare between Libby and Troy, Libby and the MK Steak House area, and Eureka and Fortine, Rexford and Trego is $4. Riders weekly can go from Troy, Libby, Eureka, Rexford, Fortine or Trego to Kalispell for $10 round-trip. Round-trip between Eureka and Libby is $8.

Anyone age 12 to 18 may ride alone with parent permission. Any child under 12 must ride with an adult or someone over age 12, again with written permission.

Any child who requires a car seat must have one for the bus.

A student who rides five times gets the sixth ride free.

Riders must call 24 hours ahead of time at 293-8042 or 1-800-877-745-7433. There is some flexibility for emergencies.

Increased federal funding to provide Montana's rural areas with transportation got the program going. The service is catching on.

"The numbers have been increasing since we got started," Ludden said. "Fifty percent of our travel is for medical, doctors and specialist not available locally."

The agency partners with Achievements Inc. in Libby, Troy Christian Fellowship and senior centers in Troy, Libby and Eureka.

"We put all our resources into one pool to provide expanded services," Ludden said.

Buses go everywhere with one exception - dirt roads.

"We can go anywhere on paved roads, but we're too low to the ground (for dirt roads)," Ludden said. "If we had different vehicles for off-road it might be an option."