Friendly Rider continues to grow and expand its service, now serving 17 communities in Wadena, Todd, Otter Tail, Morrison and Cass Counties. Wanting to expand services to give more access to public transportation, Friendly Rider recently applied for additional grant funding. On March 30, Lt. Governor Tina Smith and Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle announced $23.7 million in grants to help meet the growing need for transit services in greater Minnesota. The grants were awarded to 23 transit providers in Greater Minnesota and will help improve reliability, frequency and service for Minnesotans as they commute to work, school and personal activities. Friendly Rider was lucky enough to be a part of the awarded contracts.

"Transit matters in every corner of Minnesota. Residents of greater Minnesota took 12.2 million transit trips in 2015 alone. The need is only expected to grow in coming years," said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. "These new grants will help provide more Minnesotans reliable transit access. Our administration looks forward to working with the legislature this year to make additional investments in transit, roads and bridges."

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Friendly Rider applied for funding to expand its current services even further than before. The contract with MnDOT gives Friendly Rider an opportunity to expand its late night bus service to include Friday nights until 10 p.m. It began late night service on Thursdays in January 2016 and it has proved a great fit for Wadena.

"We knew there was a need, and while it started slowly in the first month, the ridership quickly grew and has continued to prove a valuable asset to our community," stated Transit Director Ryan Damlo.

Another growth opportunity has been Saturday service in Wadena, which has shown the need for an additional bus. That funding was also approved by MnDOT in this round of grants. Finally, Friendly Rider was awarded a new commuter route between Staples and Brainerd. In January 2016, Friendly Rider began a commuter route between Wadena and Motley which opened the door to expand now between Brainerd and Staples.

"This route will be great for those traveling to Staples for work, college classes, medical appointments and more. The route will include several trips a day between Brainerd and Staples and even Wadena to give more access than we have ever been able to provide," Damlo said. Included in this grant will be another bus, bringing their fleet to eight buses. These additions will hopefully begin in July 2017.

Additionally, in March 2017, Friendly Rider began serving Bluffton, Deer Creek, New York Mills, Ottertail and Henning.

"We could see the needs for transportation was needed in these communities, and we worked with the state to provide access to these residents," said Damlo.

This new route travels to Ottertail, Henning and Deer Creek on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and to Bluffton, New York Mills and Deer Creek on Tuesday and Thursday. Those using the bus for recreation, shopping or any other type of trip, simply call in to our dispatch team and they can help get the ride scheduled.

During the creation of this new western route, Friendly Rider partnered with Tri County Health Care as they are helping provide free rides for the residents of these communities if they use the bus to go to one of their facilities in Wadena, Ottertail or Henning.

"We have a great relationship with the team at Tri County and we are excited to help give transportation to those that need it for these trips," Damlo stated. Those using the bus for medical trips to Tri County locations, will get Free Rides and can call Friendly Rider for more info.

The final addition for 2017 will be the addition of weekly service to Sebeka and Menahga beginning in May. This will give access to our residents of the county at a minimum, the opportunity to ride transit once a week if needed.

"Transit in greater Minnesota is vitally important," said Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle. "There are fewer options in our rural communities for Minnesotans who don't drive. These bus services are a critical lifeline for many Minnesota workers, seniors, students and families across our state."