If federal funding falls, MATBUS operation could shift fully to North Dakota

More than 6,000 people ride Route 15 each week. W. Scott Olsen / Special to The Forum

MOORHEAD — Despite the Fargo-Moorhead metropolitan area's likely climb over the 200,000 population mark after this year's census, federal funding for the area's bus service is expected to fall.

Because of a projected shortfall of more than $1 million annually in coming years, a transit study of the area recommended creating a transit authority on the North Dakota side to operate a regional bus system.

The independent authority would provide partial funding for the Fargo, West Fargo and possibly Horace share of transit operations through sales or property taxes, with Moorhead and Dilworth contracting or paying for their service.

Michael Maddox, a senior planner for the regional transportation organization called METROCOG, told the Moorhead City Council Monday night, Sept. 28, that the study also suggests hiring a CEO of the operation in the short-term to carry plans forward. That person could also lead the suggested transit authority, he said.

Currently, the cities of Moorhead and Fargo have their own transit departments, and Maddox said there can be "friction" between the two.


Under the new arrangement, the transit authority, which would have to be approved by the North Dakota Legislature, could be given the authority to levy sales or property tax to help fund operations. Other state and federal funds would also continue to be available and used for operations.

"We're just looking for a sustainable way to gain funding," Maddox said.

Minnesota has a much more generous funding stream for transit operations, he said, with shorter wait and ride times making that apparent.

Maddox said the Minnesota Department of Transportation pledged to continue to provide funding for the operation if it goes under a North Dakota transit authority.

He also said a 21% increase in ridership is expected within seven years as people seek transportation to work and recreational opportunities. That could require another $2.3 million to $4.6 million in annual funding.

The operating budget for the Fargo-Moorhead MATBUS system in 2018 was about $10.8 million.

Council member Deb White wanted to ensure Moorhead would still have a strong voice in the operation if they were contracting for service.

"Buying the service would also be buying representation," Maddox said, and the goal would be "fairness" to all of the cities involved in the operation.


No action was taken; the issue will likely be settled down the road.

Using the bus system means April Knutson sees firsthand that bus etiquette involves quiet passengers and manageable procedures. Forum file photo
Using the bus system means April Knutson sees firsthand that bus etiquette involves quiet passengers and manageable procedures. Forum file photo

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