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Friendly Rider moves to new location

Wadena and Becker County transit director Ryan Damlo talks about the future of the Friendly Rider program at an open house last week.1 / 2
City and county leaders, along with members of the Friendly Rider advisory board were on hand for a ribbon cutting at the new transit building last week. From left are Ryan Damlo, Larry Spenst, Ryan Odden, Paul Sailer, Sue Siemers, Sheldon Monson, Bill Stearns, Shirley Uselman, Nancy Benson and George Deiss.2 / 2

Friendly Rider Transit is operating in a new building next the the Wadena County Highway Department on Harry Rich Drive.

City and county leaders, along with members of the community who use the service, attended an open house and ribbon cutting at the new facility Thursday, June 25. Ice cream was served by members of 4-H and free rides were offered between the Wadena County Fairgrounds and the transit building.

Ryan Damlo is Transit Director for Wadena and Becker Counties and has been in the new role since March. He introduced several people who have helped Friendly Rider become what it is today through a variety of roles.

Larry Spenst, a member of the transit advisory committee, said Friendly Rider is "the best deal in Wadena."

Wadena County has five buses with four located in the city of Wadena. One bus is located in Staples and also serves northern Todd County, including Bertha and Hewitt.

Friendly Rider also offers rides from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. to noon Sundays. The system is a dial-a-ride system.

"Thank you to all of our drivers and dispatchers and those who ride the bus," Damlo said.

Wadena Chamber of Commerce director Shirley Uselman said that many people benefit from having a bus service in Wadena. She listed off businesses, commuters, families and others.

"Wadena is very lucky to have a means of transportation for everyone," she said.

Paul Sailer, retired social services director for Wadena County, was instrumental in getting the transit system in place in the county.

The need was talked about since the 1970s but didn't take off until 2001 when a task force was commissioned. It ended up coming together a couple years later and has grown leaps and bounds.

Minnesota Department of Transportation representative Sue Siemers attended the open house and said she remembered Friendly Rider exceeded all ridership and other goals "right out of the shoot."

She is working with Damlo on merging the transit service in Becker and Wadena counties by Jan. 1.

"It will be seamless," she said.

Damlo said he wanted to talk about the future.

He is looking at how to market and expand bus service in both Wadena and Becker Counties. Many ideas are being looked at for expansion in Wadena. Many people would like to see service from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., for example, he said.

The combined transit operation will take a while to merge, Damlo said. He is working with the state to make sure it's done smoothly. His new position as Transit Director is paid jointly by Becker and Wadena Counties.

"I'm getting feedback from city leaders and will be doing interviews with riders to get an idea of what people are looking for," Damlo said.

Damlo stresses that the bus service is for everyone.

"It can be used by families who are looking for a way to have their child involved in activities but need a ride," he said.

Damlo added a summer rec schedule that has been popular for parents to have their kids use.

"We did 618 rides just in the last three weeks," he said.

This shows that the bus service is for everyone, not just the elderly, Damlo said.

In Wadena, there is a dedicated route that goes between some of the apartments, nursing home and shopping destinations. Damlo would like to see if other routes might be feasible in the city.

He is gathering feedback and is asking riders to complete a survey. Technology will be upgraded in the future as well to make scheduling rides a simpler process.

"We've also had requests for a bike rack," he said. "We were able to get a grant so we will be adding those."

To offer feedback or for more information about Friendly Rider in Wadena call 631-5730.

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