Editorial: Bus service faces uphill fight for riders

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Public transportation in small cities presents a classic chicken-or-egg scenario: Buses need enough ridership to remain financially viable and offer a wide range of routes, but ridership does not have the chance to grow unless the system can stay consistent and offer enough convenience. It’s a frustrating situation made worse by the inability or unwillingness of local governments to take on more of the expense.

The Freeborn County Connection has experienced these problems and faces an uncertain future. After a failed dial-a-ride service and the purchase of a new bus &045; efforts to offer more to the public in the hopes of getting a spike in ridership &045; money is a problem, and Senior Resources, which operates the bus system, will vote next month on whether to renew its contract to provide the service. The chance seems good that they will not.

It remains to be seen what, if any, other local group might step forward to take over if that happens, but the fact is that any successor to Senior Resources would run into the same problems. There is a need for bus service in Albert Lea, mainly among the young, the old and those who can’t afford other modes of transportation. With an aging population, its importance will only increase. But the need right now is apparently not great enough to easily support the service.

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There are no easy answers. For a bus service to survive in Albert Lea, it must find a way to attract new riders and users who might not realize the bus is available or who don’t yet see a benefit from using it. That will require skillful promotion and a keen ability to give users what they want without being overextended. That’s a tough act to pull off, but bus service is an important enough amenity that somebody must try and, we hope, eventually succeed.