Crow Tribe receives $300,000 grant for bus service

Billings Gazette

by Tom Lutey

The Crow Tribe will receive a $300,000 federal grant to keep tribal transit buses running for another year.

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., announced the grant Wednesday. The senator had written the Federal Transit Administration last June asking that funding continue so that Crow Tribe bus service across the fifth-largest reservation in the United States could continue.

Tester is chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

“Giving folks better transportation options allows them to get to work and provide for their families,” Tester said. “I will keep fighting to improve opportunities for the Crow Tribe and all of Montana’s tribes.”

The tribal bus system operates four fixed routes, including service to Billings and Sheridan, Wyo. The service is crucial to the poor, disabled and elderly, but has also become important for commuters. The cost is $4 a round trip for tribal and non-tribal passengers.

“We have 8,000 to 9,000 people who live on the reservation and the tribal population is close to 14,000. The other 6,000 people live near the reservation in Billings and Hardin, Sheridan,” said Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of Absaalooke Nation. “A lot of those individuals, whether they commute from Crow into Billings or vice versa use the bus. It cuts down on their price of gas and fuel.”

Old Coyote said there’s enough demand for bus service that the Crow Tribe program could be expanded.

The 18-passenger buses, which run on weekdays, on occasion have had to turn people away, said Alvin Not Afraid, Crow Tribe Transit Program director. On remote parts of the transit system, the bus doubles as a school bus for students attending class in Lodge Grass and Crow Agency.

Communities on the reservation’s rolling southeast Montana plains are few and far between. It isn’t uncommon to see people walking the roadside looking for a ride in the 100-degree summer heat or the sub-zero winter days.

“We have people who have to travel 72 miles just to get to work,” Not Afraid said.

Billings residents working at Crow Agency make the 59-mile trip by bus daily. Riders for all routes average 132 daily.

“It’s a very competitive grant and we are very fortunate to be recipients. Sohats off to the senator and thanks to the congressional delegation for putting in a good word,” Old Coyote said.

The bus grant comes one week after the U.S. Department of Interior awarded the Crow Tribe a $655,000 grant to develop a hydropower project at Yellowtail Afterbay Dam, capable of electrifying 3,000 homes. The grant was announced by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who took the bus from Hardin to Yellowtail Afterbay last week.