Ridership is up 11 percent and operating costs are down since Butte-Silver Bow took over transit services for people with disabilities in July.
AWARE Inc. provided the bus and van rides for the county on a contract basis from 1994 through this past June 30, when the county took over.
"We were able to take it on with Butte-Silver Bow employees and make it work and save the county money,” Transit Division Director Gary Keeler told the Council of Commissioners Wednesday night. “Overall we are really pleased with the service.”
Butte-Silver Bow officials had been eying the change for months, saying contract costs with AWARE had increased significantly in the past three years and the county might be able to provide the same service for less money.
County officials had said, however, that AWARE did a great job performing the service. The contract for the last fiscal year, which ended June 30, was $210,000.
The county hired four drivers from AWARE – three on a full-time basis and one part-time – so they were familiar with the service and many of the disabled riders. AWARE was using five full-time drivers and one part-time, county officials said.
The county initially borrowed buses from the Belmont Senior Center and one from the DD Council and also utilized existing service route buses.
The county has now acquired three vans for the service. It got a 2010 Ford Econoline van from the city of Laurel at no cost and purchased two 2014 Dodge Caravans in September through a federal grant.
The county provided 4,578 rides from July through November, compared with 4,131 during the same five months under AWARE in 2013, officials said. That's an 11-percent increase.
Operating costs for the county have been $81,867 through November. They would have been $87,500 under the previous AWARE contract over those five months, and perhaps more under a new contract being sought, officials said.
The county provides dispatch services for the rides and Keeler said the drivers hired from AWARE have been fantastic.
“I think they knew the clients and I think that added to a really smoother transition,” he said.