City bus helps crosstown commute
Since May, the Heartland Express bus in Park Rapids has expanded its service. During the past two years, the Park Rapids city bus has had an increase average of 20 passengers per day. Add that to the two seasons of the Highway 34 road construction and there became an increasing need for additional hours and some scheduling changes.
"The new routes have allowed us to move more people through the road construction," said Linda Bair, transit coordinator for Heartland Express.
According to bus driver Marv Koel, road construction has been a factor this summer. However, Koel commented the construction has been handled in a quick and organized manner making the pass through easier.
According to Bair, an additional bus was added in the mornings during the months of the construction (mid-May through freeze up) for the next two years to assist with transportation.
A new city route on Tuesdays has set pickups at various apartment buildings and heads out to the east side of town for shopping opportunities. The route functions like the current Thursday route that has the same pickup points and goes to the various grocery stores.
Fare for both of these routes is 50 cents roundtrip versus the usual bus fare for individual rides. By offering a discount and consolidating riders into a route, the bus can limit the number of times needed to cross town and deal with the road construction. Bair also expects the system's efficiency will improve.
The Park Rapids city bus runs daily Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. on a flexible schedule, which allows passengers to schedule individual pick-ups and drops-offs with the driver. The cost for a one-way trip is $1.25. To make arrangements with the Park Rapids city bus call 732-3500.
According to Koel, the passengers in Park Rapids who usually ride the city bus are regulars.
"There are a lot of people who park their cars during the winter so they don't have to drive on snow and ice, so this is available," said Koel.
Passenger Barb Englert said she chooses not to drive her car and instead uses the bus three or four times a week.
"Without them (the buses) we'd be lost," Barb Englert said.
Children who are involved in activities, such as tennis, swimming and baseball, during the summer are also regulars on the bus, said Koel.
Nine year-old Kellsey Clark said she would be riding the bus to tennis in the mornings for two weeks. Clark said she rides the bus because her mother runs a home childcare business and therefore is unable to drive her during the day.
"We ask people to give us a couple hours notice if they need a ride," Koel said. "Most of the passengers are really appreciative that the service is here."
While Koel said his job is challenging, it's enjoyable as well.
"In my opinion it's a fun job and if it wasn't fun I wouldn't be doing it," added Koel.
According to Bair, since the Park Rapids city bus primarily serves residents within the city limits, the system added a new route on Tuesdays. This route can pick residents up at their homes within a four-mile perimeter of the city limits and bring them into town for a two and one-half-hour layover for shopping, visiting, medical or any other need.
Passengers are required to schedule a pick-up time before noon Monday. Once in town, the rider can schedule various moves from place to place with the bus driver.
Temporary routes will still be set up various times throughout the year for mass transportation needs, such as children's Little League practice in the summer.
"As certain needs are perceived, temporary routes are set up to meet these needs," said Bair.
The Hubbard County route runs daily from Laporte through Nevis and into Park Rapids with a layover between 8:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Pre-scheduled routes are also available to take passengers in Hubbard County to Park Rapids and Bemidji.
According to Bair, due to an increasing need for Fargo trips to the airport, VA hospital and other medical facilities, Paul Bunyan Transit, the public transit system for Beltrami County, now comes through Park Rapids with a wheelchair accessible bus and goes to Fargo every Tuesday in conjunction with Hubbard County's transit system. The layover will be approximately four hours and the bus can shuttle riders to various locations. The fare is $20.
Jefferson bus lines, which runs seven days a week, starts in Bemidji, runs through Park Rapids and travels to Minneapolis. Passengers can board at the Holiday Station in Park Rapids.
A connection to the airport shuttle service (Twin Cities Passenger Service) at Wadena can also be made.
Volunteer drivers, in their own vehicles, are also available to take passengers if the bus cannot meet needs for medical trips. The fee is based on mileage. To set up a ride call at least 24 hours in advance from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday.
The phone number for information on any of the services is 732-9328. All of these services are public transportation and are available to everyone. There are no income or age guidelines.