By Bobbie Hart O’Neill CSMSMagazine staff writerThe Oglala Sioux Tribe has secured funding to start a public transportation system that will serve villages in an area that encompasses some 4,400 square mile in two of the nation’s poorest counties. The area is twice the size of the state of Delaware where the unemployment rate is near 80 percent and the average annual income for the roughly 16,000 residents is $3,700. Hopefully by next year, there should be no more walking along the road from point A to point B, hitchhiking or trying to catch a ride with family or friends. Emma Featherman-Sam, the tribes transit coordinator, says the system will provide access to jobs, and access to their medical appointments. Emma lives in Kyle but works in Pine Ridge – a 57 one-way drive from home to the workplace. “Maybe three times a week I pick up someone hitching to work.” According to Featherman-Sam, three daily routes will initially run from Wanblee though Pine Ridge and other villages along the way and the to the tribe’s casino on the reservation’s western border. Smaller feeder routes will eventually connect with the main lines. The project will start with 10 buses, two vans and a bus terminal in Pine Ridge. The tribe is also looking for sponsors to help cover the cost of shelters for bus stops which are $700 dollars each. The tribe’s transit liaison, Delores Bear Killer has been getting feedback from “rez” residents on the proposed routes and pick-up point locations. One woman in Pine Ridge toting six bags of groceries and a pre-school grandson said she had to hitchhike to Oglala and back here to get and carry groceries. Bear Killer emphasizes “The need for public transportation is great here!” One of the tribal elderly ladies said this would make her more independent and she wouldn’t have to depend on “people to haul her here and there.” But still unresolved are fare amounts that will cover operating costs. The Federal Transportation Administration awarded $2.27 million for busses and building. The tribe is filing the paper work needed to secure about $500,000 in matching funds from the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Featherman-Sam said and added “This is the part that is taking the longest. “Construction on the bus terminal could start this fall and the busses, which have to be ordered, could begin running early next spring. We’re hoping we can find a company that has some so we can get going soon.” The system being set up along the main route will run Morning, midday and evening to allow people to get to appointments and return home to avoid all day waiting periods. Eventually Featherman-Sam sees a system that will include regular trips to Rapid City for their resident’s shopping and medical appointments. Once the system is established, Featherman-Sam’s biggest concern will be to keep it up and running on time. “We want to be certain the people can go to a bus stop and know the bus will be here at 7:15.” Note: This column was first published in the Arizona Republic’s AP story, bylined Carson Walker.