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Palace Transit to replace 4 aging buses to meet growing demand for service

While a pair of grants will help the city replace a handful of buses, supply chain issues are delaying their arrival.

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A Palace Transit bus driver begins his shift on Monday, Jan. 24, in one of the buses that the city will replace in the near future.
Sam Fosness / Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — As Mitchell’s public transportation service sees growing demand, Palace Transit anxiously awaits the arrival of four new buses that will update the aging fleet.

However, supply chain issues have delayed the anticipated arrival of the four new buses.

After four buses have racked up about 150,000 miles each, Community Services Director Jessica Pickett said the respective aging 16-passenger buses are in dire need of replacement.

“The longer we have to wait, the more maintenance we have to do on them, which isn’t cheap. We have oil leaks and other issues reoccurring,” Pickett said. “We have been jam packed with riders this year, so the buses can’t get here fast enough.”

The city recently secured roughly $340,000 in grants from the South Dakota Department of Transportation (SD DOT) to replace four of Palace Transit’s 2008 model buses. While the first $130,000 grant that the city was awarded in September will bring two new buses to Palace Transit’s fleet, Pickett said supply chain issues pushed the expected arrival date back about a year, as she’s anticipating the new buses to arrive sometime later this year.

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The latest $210,000 grant that the city secured earlier this month through the SD DOT will replace two more 16-passenger buses, but Pickett said those may not arrive until 2023.

To keep up with the growing demand of ridership Palace Transit has experienced over the past year, one of the buses the city is expecting to receive first will be a 24-passenger bus.

“The 24-passenger bus will replace a 16-passenger because we’ve been having more than 16 passengers on the buses we have operating during the day,” Pickett said.

As for what’s driving the demand for Palace Transit’s ridership, Pickett pointed to affordability and recent changes in the local taxi industry as potential factors.

Over the past few years, Mitchell lost a local taxi service, Lori’s Lift. Another change in Mitchell’s taxi landscape is the dwindling availability of Lyft drivers, who have been operating much less than previous years.

However, Mitchell gained another taxi company earlier this month after the City Council approved Speedy Taxi’s license to operate in early January. CabMe is another locally owned taxi service that opened in 2021.

Despite the addition of the two relatively new taxi services, Pickett said Palace Transit’s ridership has continued to increase each month. While the primary demographic of riders using Palace Transit’s public transportation services used to be the elderly, people with disabilities and people who make trips to clinics for medical appointments, Pickett said she’s seen an increase in workers using Palace Transit buses to commute to their jobs.

“We provide transportation for pretty much every demographic, including the elderly, handicap individuals and people who are going in for dialysis,” Pickett said. “We’ve seen more workers take the early 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. buses to their jobs as well.”

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As the city awaits the arrival of four new buses, Pickett said it will be a big "relief" to have an updated fleet of 12 buses to take on the increased demand of riders.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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