BIG RAPIDS — For many in Mecosta and Osceola counties, public transportation is a key component to their daily schedules.

Putting a priority on maintaining reliable service, Big Rapids’ Dial-A-Ride and the Mecosta Osceola Transit Authority have applied for state grants to continue their current level of operations.

DART is requesting a total of $296,725 from the state for operating assistance costs for general public transit services, and MOTA is seeking $924,512 through two grants from the state.

MOTA plans on using the grant money for discounted rides for the elderly and free rides for people who need rides to the hospital and the Job Access Reverse Commute program.

The Job Access Reverse Commute Program is designed to give free transportation to people for job fairs and interviews.

MOTA Executive Director Ron Schalow reported 1,691 people used the JARC program last year, and 2,256 used it in 2013. Excluding the program’s first year in 2007, an average of 1,712 riders have used it each year.

“When we offer free transit for people looking for jobs, this grant covers the cost of their fare,” Schalow said.

The program is in collaboration with Michigan Works! West Central, Community Mental Health for Central Michigan and Mecosta-Osceola Department of Human Services.

Another one of MOTA’s primary services is transporting seniors and the disabled to and from the hospital.

“We have reduced rates for senior citizens and those with disabilities,” Schalow said. “We have what we call origin-to-destination service, where we don’t run on set routes, but pick people up at a specific location and drive them to where they need to be.”

Schalow said the grant money from the state will be dedicated to continuing the program for senior citizens and the disabled.

MOTA receives input from the County Commission on Aging and Hope Network about providing transportation for seniors, and Schalow said the grant money and bus services are primarily used by seniors.

For all other riders, MOTA charges $5 a ride. In total, 62,586 used MOTA’s services in 2014, but Schalow reported this year’s projected overall ridership is down compared to last.

“We attempt to hook up people who want a ride where the busses are already going,” Schalow said. “But for our annual meeting and what we want to do with this grant money, we are looking at our accessibility plan to ensure our clients can enjoy MOTA for accessibility for the seniors and the elderly.”

DART’s $296,725 request from the state is for general operating assistance. On Feb. 16, city commissioners voted to send information about DART’s services to the state for the annual grant application.

DART estimates it has 150,000 riders each year, including 77,000 who use the Ferris State University shuttle service.

“The money we are applying for with the grant is intended only for current operation costs,” DART supervisor Dawn Fuller said. “It goes to anything under general operation costs, including paying employees, mechanics, repair costs and any office supplies we need.”

Big Rapids City Treasurer Jon Locke said the request is for the state to reimburse the city for 36 percent of DART’s costs, with the money being used for maintenance and improvement to services already provided.

Fuller said she applied for another grant to add a route with a fixed shelter where a bus would stop regularly, but that grant application is in the early stages.

As for set bus route on the county level, Schalow said there are not plan to establish one.

“In 2007 we had fixed routes throughout the county, but they were not viable,” Schalow said. “We had 200 to 250 rides a month. Usually, 12 to 15 people used it regularly and it was costly to maintain. The system was just not in demand.”

MOTA receives funding from the state and federal government, but not from municipalities, limiting the services it can offer.

“We are operating on state and federal funding and working with outside organizations like Hope Network,” Schalow said. “Other transit systems, like The Rapid in Grand Rapids, use a city tax base and have municipal support. We don’t have that.”