BIG RAPIDS — After passing its millage in November, the Mecosta Osceola Transit Authority (MOTA) has been working to implement its new hours for 2020.

"MOTA has been doing great," MOTA executive director Michael Tillman said. "Before the millage, we were kind of in the 'hold your breath' mode."

In an effort to keep their doors from closing, MOTA — a transit service which provides rides to people in Osceola and Mecosta counties, excluding Big Rapids residents and their own city transit system — proposed a .5 millage property tax increase over the next five years, from 2019-23.

While campaigning for the millage, Tillman promised a number of items to residents, including extended hours, weekend availability and lower rates, all to be rolled out incrementally throughout the new year.

Promised rates included lowering the full rate fare from $5 to $2; lowering the senior and disabled rate from $2.50 to $1; seniors 80 years and older ride free; veterans of any age ride for $1; children 6 to 15 ride for $1; and children 5 and under ride for free, with paying adult.

Scheduled hours also were promised to increase Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and include 8 hours for both Saturday and Sunday.

The millage appeared on the Nov. 5 ballot and passed in both counties.

Since then, MOTA has implemented its new rates, and recently extended its schedule Monday, Jan. 20, by two hours, 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., with intent to expand over the coming months.

"I would like to tell everybody thank you," Tillman said. "We support their trust, their confidence, and we look forward to honoring the decision of the people to bless MOTA with the funding we needed to be able to provide this service. We strive to be not only meeting those goals, but to be as efficient as possible in doing so."

Though the extended hours began Jan. 20, lower rates were implemented in November, the Monday following election day. Since then, Tillman said he's noticed an increase in clients.

"Our ridership has greatly increased from what it was last summer," he said. "It's much more affordable now, and people are utilizing it at greater numbers than what we had experienced even last September/October.

"We're looking forward to getting the weekend service up and going as quickly."

Along with an increase in ridership and hours, Tillman plans to up the number of buses and drivers available to area residents, with two new vehicles being delivered at the end of February and additional drivers already on staff.

"We have been expanding our personnel base, hired three additional dispatchers in preparation for our expanded hours of operation," he said. "I've hired some additional drivers, and I'm looking for additional drivers on top of that."

As increased times are assessed and new drivers are hired, Tillman said MOTA will be extending its weekday hours to 10 p.m. and expanding into the weekends, as promised.

"These goals are our main focus right now," he said. "We told the people, 'This is what we plan on doing,' and we're staying true to our word, and we're implementing the service as quickly as we can.

"Things are looking up, and we are progressing and moving forward."

For more information or to stay up to date on changes with MOTA, follow "Mecosta Osceola Transit Authority (MOTA)" on Facebook, or visit motaonline.net.