Public transit changes coming

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Next January new bussing routes will go into effect in Albert Lea, and some residents aren’t too happy about it.

The Freeborn County Connection (FCC) transit bus will cut back on stops, and planners hope they can make up for the smaller service area with a new dial-a-ride service. Some residents at a meeting on the subject Tuesday weren’t convinced, however.

&uot;I liked it the way it was,&uot; Effie Heist, an Albert Lea retiree, said.

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&uot;I’ll have to walk down to St. John’s now, unless I use that new system, but it won’t be the same having to call ahead of time instead of having a certain route,&uot; Irene Enstad, another retiree, said.

The two women attended the FCC meeting, held at Senior Resources in Skyline Mall. The FCC explained their plans for the upcoming year and asked for public input on future projects for county transportation.

Because of a tight budget and the addition of another bus, the new route for the FCC will be a fraction of what it used to be. At 5.1 miles, it is about a third of the old 15.75-mile route. The old hour-long route will be cut to just 25 minutes. Instead of traveling all the way up Bridge Avenue to the Albert Lea Good Samaritan Center, over to St. John’s Lutheran Home and east to Health Reach, the route will be concentrated around downtown. The cost will be the same as is now, $1.25 cash or a $1 token per ride.

&uot;It’s a shame because I’d like to have that old long route,&uot; said Doris Hagen, the Transportation Coordinator for the FCC. &uot;But we need to be as cost efficient as possible.&uot;

The FCC wants to try the shorter route because a

high concentration of riders were using the bus in that area. But the FCC has planned a &uot;dial a ride&uot; bus. Riders can make reservations for the bus to pick them up and drop them off, if they call a day in advance. The FCC says that riders who don’t call in advance can still be picked up, but they aren’t guaranteed rides like the 24-hour-advance reservation riders. The fares for this bus will be $2.25 cash or $2 in tokens.

The meeting was also a chance for people to give ideas to the FCC about transportation. Leaders from senior homes and centers, community service organizations, the county board, and family service organizations were all represented at the meeting.

Ideas included longer service hours, getting bilingual brochures for routes and inside buses, having companies who have workers taking the bus subsidize routes, starting routes to other towns in the county to and from Albert Lea, and making available daily and monthly flat-fee bus passes.

The FCC has a budget of $89,000 for this year and will have $120,000 for 2003. Sixty-five percent of that budget is given by the state Department of Transportation, the city pays about 18 percent and fares make up the remaining funding.

The raise in funds is due to an increase in ridership in 2002.

&uot;There were 400 more rides in 2002 than in 2001,&uot; said Jean Meyer, project manager for an 11 -county MNDot district in southeastern Minnesota. &uot;There is a lot of potential for growth here.&uot;