It’s the first time we’ve had two people as a cover story, but the Fargo Transit Administration and the Moorhead Transit Administration have a joint powers agreement and a Metro Area Transit coordinating board to operate Matbus. Matbus serves the communities of Fargo and West Fargo in North Dakota and Moorhead and Dilworth in Minnesota.
Leading the Fargo Transit Administration is Transit Administrator Julie Bommelman and Transit Manager Lori Van Beek leads the Moorhead Transit Administration.
“We are pretty unique,” Van Beek says of the arrangement. “The joint power agreement spells out how we share costs and how we work together.”
And the MAT coordinating board is made up of elected officials that guide the process. Van Beek explains, “They’re a recommending board to our elected officials so that they can work with us on a smaller level and see what’s going on and try tocoordinate everything. Then, we bring it to our separate governing bodies to move forward with recommendations.
Van Beek and Bommelman explain they are equal managers and do a lot of coordination. A lot of the policies and the driver’s manual are written together and they go out for bids together, even though they will have separate contracts: one with the city of Fargo and one with the city of Moorhead. The cities of Fargo and Moorhead request proposals for driver services jointly and currently contract with First Transit.
“By sharing one contractor, the two cities have reduced the staffing needs for training and supervision and share a larger workforce,” Van beek said.
The Metro office and transit garage is owned together, with Fargo owning two-thirds of the transit garage and employing all of the maintenance staff and technicians that do the vehicle preventative maintenance and cleaning.
The office space, furniture, equipment and supplies are provided by the cities. They also own and maintain the vehicles, facility and equipment. Van Beek says, “this public-private partnership is cost effective for all parties, with fewer start-up costs for the contractor and national expertise for the cities.”
Operating together under Matbus, there’s one fare structure and they share revenues. While a pass can be used anywhere on the system, the fares are separated based on ridership. “We have a lot of interesting arrangements like that,” Van Beek says. “Our spreadsheets to separate costs and bill each other are pretty interesting.”
Van Beek started as a secretary in the community development department for the city of Moorhead and one of the functions of that department was to oversee the transit system. “I did all the ridership statistics, answered the phone and gave out route information,” she says. After five years she got promoted into a job as a community development specialist, which was working with the federal grant program and all of the federal regulations. In 1990, she was promoted to her current position, transit manager.
Bommelman had applied for a job with the city of Fargo and got offered a different job, one in transportation. After about a year, the manager left and she was promoted to transit administrator. “I’ve been in the position since 1999,” she said.
Bommelman says the growth of the area with students, housing growth and low unemployment has put the area in a position of a higher demand for transit in the metropolitan area. “We have grown considerably over recent years and continue to see growth,” she said. Though with parking not being an issue in the community, they do have the challenge of making transit appealing to choice riders. However, transit use among that segment has increased significantly, she says. “People recognize the importance of keeping transit vibrant in the community.”
Van Beek mirrors that with, “More people are realizing the benefits of transit to the community’s economy and environment. I see us facing greater demands for transit, especially for an aging population, but with less financial resources available.