By Ryan Gueningsman
An agreement was entered into recently with River Rider for public transportation services in Delano for 2009.
In October, the Delano City Council reviewed an agreement with River Rider for services.
Since that time, River Rider representatives have also reviewed the agreement and requested several changes, which were approved by the city council Dec. 16. The changes include the definition of service hours, the location of parking and repairs, and also clarifications regarding the hours of service and the service area.
Since 2007, the city had been attempting to find an efficient and cost-effective public transportation source after Senior Community Services (SCS) lost its funding for the former Delano Transportation Program. The city and River Rider had discussions in late 2007 about providing the service for 2008, but at that time, River Rider did not have available hours from Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to cover Delano’s needs.
Following that discussion, it was determined to be less expensive for Delano to provide its own transportation service than fund the deficits River Rider would have in meeting Delano’s needs, said Delano City Administrator Phil Kern in a memo to the city council.
In 2008, River Rider requested and received additional funding from MnDOT to cover Delano’s requested hours. This means River Rider can provide the service to Delano in 2009 for an anticipated contribution of $21,651 from Delano. This is about $30,000 less than what Delano currently spends to provide transportation services.
“We need this to move forward, and soon,” commented Delano Senior Center Director Gail Sinkel at the meeting.
It was noted River Rider can do this with expanded hours, utilizing a schedule of Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Kern said this exceeds the current schedule of 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Delano will receive a minimum of 1,825 hours of service for the year.
With the new service in place, River Rider Transit Director Chad Gessell said there would still be a little work to do, including getting the word out that the transportation service is for everyone not just the elderly or handicapped.
“Obviously, we’re going to have to get the word about that, that it’s open to everyone,” Gessell said after the meeting, noting it has been a struggle in the past for River Rider to make people aware of that.
He said the next few months will be spent trying to educate people locally about the services River Rider provides, and said
“We want to concentrate on the people we think would be interested and use the system,” Gessell said. He and his staff will meet with managers of major stores, the local clinic, and other places in Delano to make people aware of the service.
The first day of River Rider service in Delano is going to be Monday, Jan. 5. Gessell said there probably won’t be a large number of “public rides” the first few weeks, and said it’ll mainly consist of providing rides the Delano system has previously provided.
How to ride River Rider
Gessell said people wanting to utilize River Rider for transportation services need to call 800-821-9719 or (763) 263-0101.
For a short time, people will also be able to arrange rides by calling the Delano Senior Center, but Gessell said it’s best if people call River Rider directly to arrange transportation.
River Rider’s office hours are Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., and rides can be arranged anytime during those hours. Gessell said it’s best to call at least a day in advance for a ride.
“We’d like to have a day in advance, but same-day rides over there aren’t going to be problematic,” Gessell said. “A day ahead is always nice.”
A scheduled ride within Delano will cost $1.25.
“We’re going to want to establish a good ridership base,” Gessell said, noting there is a bus pass program available where people can purchase 20 rides for $25 and get two free. A bus pass can be purchased from a driver at anytime one rides the bus.
River Rider was created in 1979 as the Sherburne County Heartland Express, with Wright County eventually joining the program. In July 2002, it became River Rider, encompassing parts of both Sherburne and Wright counties. In 2006, River Rider took over Monticello’s Heartland Express, and in 2007, it took over Annandale’s Heartland Express.
“I’m excited for Wright County. With the mergers we’ve done, we have pretty much encompassed a very large portion of the county providing transportation, so that’s wonderful,” Gessell said, but admitted he is nervous about Delano because Delano “has done a very good job with their system, and we’re coming in, in a lot of people’s eyes, as the competition. We’re going to want to make sure to gain people’s trust and confidence especially when you’re dealing with people accustomed with a routine, any change can throw things off.”
River Rider is governed by the River Rider Joint Powers Board, which is made up of representatives from both Sherburne and Wright counties. These representatives handle every issue concerning River Rider, including handling the funding and direction of this transit system.
Joint powers representatives include:
• Sherburne County Commissioner Rachel Leonard
• Sherburne County Commissioner Arne Engstrom
• Representing Sherburne County Cities Ken Paulson
• Wright County Commissioner Dick Mattson
• Wright County Commissioner Pat Sawatzke
• Representing Wright County Cities Janice Severson
It was noted in the agreement between the city and River Rider that a monthly report will be given to the city administrator outlining totals for ridership, fare revenue, notices and agenda of board meetings, and other information requested by the city. A representative from Delano may attend all River Rider board meetings in a non-voting capacity.
Gessell said River Rider is a curb-to-curb service, and said all his drivers are friendly and helpful. He also said all of the busses are wheelchair accessible.
Informational meeting Tuesday for River Rider
An informational meeting will take place Tuesday, Dec. 30 at 12:30 p.m. at the Delano Senior Center.
Representatives from River Rider and also the Delano Senior Center will be on hand to answer questions and explain River Rider’s services.
To schedule a ride with River Rider or for more information, call 800-821-9719 or (763) 263-0101 or visit www.riverridertransit.com.