HELENA — The bus route that connects Helena and East Helena was suspended last week. MTN spoke with the Deputy Director of Transportation Systems for the City of Helena to find out when it might be coming back and what it means for East Helena residents in the meantime.
Since Friday, Jan. 6, bus ridership between Helena and East Helena has been suspended. The city continued offering rides for those who had already booked their trip but prevented new rides from being booked.
This bus route suspension was the result of staffing shortages. A few of the city operators are out with extended absences and the city doesn’t have the staffing to cover the shortage.
A similar staff shortage caused the East Helena route to temporarily shut down in November 2021. The route also saw impacts in December 2020 due to staffing.
Deputy Director of Transportation Systems for the City of Helena, Chris Couey, says that this suspension will most likely be short-lived.
“So, our goal is to be back online for next week. So, Monday is a holiday, so they won't be operating on Monday. But starting Tuesday, it's our goal to have that route back in the regular rotation in some form. You know, it may be a little more limited, you know, but we do want to make sure that those riders that are out there that depend on our service can still get into town,” says Couey.
This suspension comes on the heels of the city’s recent end to fixed bus routes within Helena. Currently, riders need to make appointments through the city’s app for pick-up and drop-off locations if they want a ride.
This temporary suspension has Mindy Diehl, Senior Nutrition and Transportation Director at Rocky Mountain Development Council, wondering what the future holds for seniors who need transportation. Currently, RMDC does offer a shuttle for seniors from East Helena to the Senior Center at RMDC. But with only 2 shuttles and 1 driver, Diehl is considering ironing out RMDC’s system to make it even more accessible.
“It’s really important to serve those seniors, getting them into Helena. You know, it's easy to slip into isolation and loneliness. And it's a real thing being homebound when you're a senior. You know, there's limited services in East Helena. It is a lovely town. But, you know, a lot of services are in Helena. And those folks have to be in Helena,” says Diehl.
In addition to the RMDC’s bus for seniors, other options for those trying to get to and from East Helena include a personal car or private rideshare business.