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Friendly Rider Ridership increasing as new service added

Friendly Rider Transit Director Ryan Damlo showed the advisory committee features on one of the new buses at a recent meeting. Anna Erickson/Pioneer Journal

Friendly Rider continues to grow by leaps and bounds as it increases ridership and routes are added to the transit system.

The local, county-funded transit now travels to communities in five counties. The bus service travels through Hewitt, Bertha, Eagle Bend, Clarissa and Browerville in Todd County twice a day.

Ryan Damlo, Transit Director for Wadena County Friendly Rider has promoted ridership throughout the county by offering new routes west on Highway 10 to Staples and Motley. Kids in Wadena-Deer Creek Summer Rec utilized the service to get to rec activities as well.

An internet dispatching system will likely go live in the spring of 2017 and there have been talks about sharing a dispatching system with other counties, Damlo said. The cost would be split with other counties that utilize the dispatching system.

Ridership has increased by 15 percent over last year, according to reports shared at a recent Transit Advisory Committee meeting. Total ridership through the first nine months of 2016 was 39,156 compared to 33,951 through the same time in 2015.

Friendly Rider now operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday in Wadena and Staples. In addition, service is offered in Wadena from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Sunday. In staples, service is offered from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. The bus also offers a promotion where it runs late Thursday nights so people can go out to eat and see a movie downtown.

Check the Friendly Rider website at www.friendlyrider.com for current hours and more information.

Employees who work at Morey's in Motley asked for the bus to run earlier so they could make it to work on time.

Damlo is looking at other possible routes in 2017 and is constantly receiving feedback from riders in the area. He was asked to hand out surveys to potential riders in the Sebeka and Menahga areas to get an idea of how they would utilize the service.

He also discussed expanding service to Bluffton, Deer Creek and New York Mills, along with additional trips to Motley and Staples.

An equipment grant totaling $148,000 allowed the county to purchase two new buses. The Ford E-450s hold 20 passengers and have additional safety features including cameras on board and back-up cameras, slip resistant flooring, grab rails, additional suspension and front wheelchair lifts. Televisions on the buses will include a news ticker, announcements and advertising.

Damlo would like to see Wifi added to the buses as well.

All of these additions are helping Friendly Rider establish new growth.

Friendly Rider provides free rides during some community events throughout the year as well, such as the Christmas Festival and Women's Day Out.

Riders can register online at www.friendlyrider.com or by calling (218) 631-5730.

Anna Erickson
Anna Erickson is editor of the Wadena Pioneer Journal.
(218) 631-2561
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