Dial-a-Ride guidelines changing Nov. 1

By Jennie ZeitlerStaff Writer

Dial-a-Ride transportation service offered in the city of Little Falls will be changed beginning Thursday, Nov. 1.

MorrTrans, which has provided unlimited Dial-a-Ride bus service throughout the entire city limits of Little Falls, will be dividing into two different service areas.

In order to provide better service for the highest number of riders, a “central city zone” of service will remain unchanged. This includes the area between Thirteenth Street Southwest and Eighteenth Street Southeast and between Thirteenth Avenue Northwest and Northeast and a line running from Park View Drive in the southwest corner of Little Falls to 138th Street in the southeast portion of the city. Nothing will change within that area regarding how the routes will be run or how a ride should be requested.

A “northern tier” has been defined as the area north of Thirteenth Avenue Northwest and Northeast Access to transportation in this area will occur two to three times a day and will combine passengers in order to make the trip as productive as possible in terms of number of passengers per hour.

“We can’t provide unlimited Dial-a-Ride in the city anymore,” said Linda Elfstrand of Tri-County Action Program (Tri-CAP), which partners with Morrison County Social Services to operate the program. “We need to serve the core better.”

This is step one of a redesign of the Dial-a-Ride program. “We are trying to maximize the efficiencies of our transportation services,” said Paul Bukovich, Morrison County Social Services supervisor. “The highest number of riders are in the central core, and we’re trying to raise the number of riders per hour overall.”

The rest of the city outside the central zone will receive service fewer times a day. “We can’t continue to be everything to everybody,” Elfstrand said.

Some of the funding the program receives is from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

“The number of riders per hour is how MnDOT evaluates the program and determines our funding,” Bukovich said. “That funding is a substantial piece of the upkeep of the service we provide: maintenance and dispatch, for example.”

Tri-CAP’s transportation advisory committee analyzed the service and is instituting this change as the first step in an effort to bring the number of riders per hour more in line with the required six to seven rides per hour. Currently, MorrTrans is operating at approximately four rides per hour, putting it at risk of future loss of funding.

“If we find a corridor of ridership outside the central zone, we will set up a schedule to serve those areas, such as out to Belle Prairie, to insure that there is no loss of transportation access for anyone,” said Bukovich. “The transportation network really serves a lot of folks.”

As part of the transportation service provided, Social Services operates a volunteer driver program. The drivers are dispatched through Social Services as part of a cooperative agreement with Tri-CAP.

“Requests for a ride should be made with 24-hour notice,” Bukovich said. “That doesn’t always serve the needs of riders, but we still have turned away less than 1 percent of requests made with less than 24 hours’ notice. That speaks to the quality of our volunteer drivers.”

Morrison County subsidizes fares for customers purchasing tokens in advance. With a token, a one-way ride within city limits is $.50 for senior citizens and $1 for the general public. Rides outside city limits with tokens are $1 for seniors and $2 for the general public. For passengers paying cash, no matter what age, in-town rides are $1.25 each and out-of-town rides are $3. Tokens can be purchased through the Social Services Department.

There is curbside pickup in a fully handicap-accessible transit bus.

But the transportation service is available not only for the elderly and the disabled — it’s for the general public as well.

“At this point, the changes are a test run,” said Social Services Director Brad Vold. “We will continue to reevaluate; it’s a valuable service.”

“We will be reviewing the service at all times,” Bukovich said, “looking at the number of requests, location and timing of those requests. We don’t want to lose riders.”

For more information call (320) 632-2951.