The idea to provide additional transit opportunities in Sebeka are favored by Wadena County Commissioners representing those areas, but significant need appears to be lacking based on a recent survey.
Transit director Randy Jahnke presented his findings during the regular county board meeting Oct. 19, which showed an almost zero response rate.
A total of 500 surveys were sent out, 300 mailed and 200 handed to businesses. There was also an online option to submit a response. Of those options three responses were received in favor of the route. One business expressed concern, Jahnke said. The concern was that the transit may be sending people out of town to do their shopping rather than shopping locally. Jahnke said the pay structure increases the further you travel so there may be some reluctance to pay for a trip outside the immediate area.
Based on the lack of interest from the survey and due to a lack of trip denials, Jahnke recommended not applying for the mid-day route with the state. A trip denial is when a rider requests a ride but is unable to get one due to availability. So, if there is a need for a ride in Sebeka outside of the morning and late afternoon trips, Friendly Rider can usually accommodate that need.
The hesitancy to add a route that may lack the need is that in order to have a route receive funding from the state, it must have at least three riders per hour. Without that, the cost is on the county. Any additional cost to the county is typically something the board tries to avoid.
Hearing the recommendation from Jahnke, commissioners Murlyn Kreklau and Jon Kangas voiced their concerns of the survey results. Kreklau said he didn’t put much stock into the trip denial and how that relates to people’s desires to ride. He felt random rides were not effective. He believed that giving the trip a chance would possibly result in something that grows and benefits the area.
“Not that accurate. On the calls for random service, I don’t know if anyone is going to do that,” Kreklau said.
Kreklau continued by scrutinizing the transit advisory group, which he said looks to be made up of Wadena-area people, even people outside of Wadena County. He questioned why funding is on this county when the transit supports other neighboring counties, too.
He did however, agree with Jahnke’s conclusion that there was a lack of interest based on the survey.
Kangas continued to show his distaste for Friendly Rider as he saw it as a county transit benefitting the city of Wadena more than any other community in the county. He had concerns with the survey itself, which he said told people when the route would be, not offering options. The survey asked respondents if they would use a mid-day route, not specifically saying when that route would take place. He further cast doubt on people's ability or willingness to pay for a trip from Sebeka to Wadena, which was about $10.50. There again, the survey asked what people felt was a reasonable fare to pay.
The surveys were sent out in early August and were due back on September 1.
Commissioner Bill Stearns said the county tried more routes years ago, but those routes that did not have interest were eventually removed because the transit authority has to prove a need for state approval and state funding. If the county wants to establish routes that do not pay for themselves, that’s on the county, Stearns explained.
While it appears there is an insufficient need right now, Jahnke kept open the idea that sometime there may be an increased need that the transit needs to act on.
Stearns said that hospitals like Tri-County Health Care and Lakewood Health Systems are the backbone of these transit routes as they buy tickets and give to patients for free rides. Commission chair Sheldon Monson suggested that Jahnke could connect with health centers in Park Rapids to see if there would be a desire to provide the same service there.
If you feel there is a need for a route in your area, contact Friendly Rider at 218-631-5730.
In other actions related to the county transit, the board approved the purchase of two buses, which were approved for purchase in 2020. The transit will now be purchasing them. The county pays 10% of the cost of one of the buses, $9,093.80, and 0% of the second bus. State grants pay the other costs of these $90k buses. All commissioners were in favor except Kangas.
“I’m having difficulty supporting the Friendly Rider bus service giving my area of the county gets little to none and it's supposed to be a county service,” Kangas said. “Until we work on some of those details and get that worked out I don’t want to support it.”
“If you live in Wadena, you get seven day a week service, dial-a-ride and it’s cheap,” Kangas said. “We got a lot of poor people in our neighborhood too that could use some of that, and the schedule one day a week (in Menahga) just doesn’t work.”
In other actions, the board:
- Approved the declaration of the MSW market price for Wadena County. The market price is $84.37 per ton for a facility, based on a tipping fee amount of $42.13 per ton at the Dakota Landfill (including host and environmental fees) and an additional contracted transportation cost of $ 42.24 per ton (based on $2.35/mile at 284 miles). Commissioners also heard that the total cost for disposing waste at the Prairie Lakes Municipal Solid Waste site in Perham is $134.58 per ton.
- Approved a cooperative agreement between Tri-County Health Care, Otter Tail County, and Wadena County related to the new access to Hwy 10 at the new health care center. Wadena and Otter Tail County received bonding dollars for the construction of an access route. In order to implement this project, a cooperative agreement was drafted to lay out roles and responsibilities for all parties involved including Otter Tail County, Wadena County, and Tri County Health Care. These bonding dollars are to construct the new access route on CSAH 92 from TH 10 through Greenwood Avenue. These funds cannot be used within Trunk Highway Right of Way. The portion of work within trunk highway 10 right of way will be funded by Tri County Health Care and MnDOT Transportation Economic Development Program funds, if received. Design has begun for this project. The contract spells out who is responsible for what and some cost responsibilities for all partners. All were in support of the motion.
- Approved an updated personnel policy.
- Held a closed session for negotiation strategy for the labor contracts.