Cedar Valley Services to take over busing in Mower County

Published 9:17 am Wednesday, August 21, 2013

AUSTIN — Austin and Mower County will no longer run public transportation in the area next year.

The board of directors for Austin Mower County Area Transit, the Mower County public busing agency, voted Tuesday to dissolve and to not submit a grant application to the state Department of Transportation for funding next year.

That way, Cedar Valley Services, which also runs Albert Lea Transit throughout Freeborn County, could take over. AMCAT is primarily funded through the state, though rider fees account for about 15 percent of its funding.

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MnDOT officials pushed Mower, Steele and Freeborn counties to merge public transportation services earlier this year as a way to save money and reduce the amount of transit authorities in the state. Though Austin and Mower officials were working on a plan to create a tri-county transportation authority, Steele County opted to turn its services over to Cedar Valley Services.

Though it’s not guaranteed Cedar Valley Services will secure public busing in Mower County — the state will open routes to any nonprofit or government entity that wants to apply — Cedar Valley Services officials have already reached out to the state, and city and county officials have met with the nonprofit to learn more about transitioning services.

“Cedar Valley Services, when we met with them, have every intention in the world to apply to run this program,” Mower County Coordinator Craig Oscarson said.

City and county officials said they are more than happy to continue running public transportation: Dankert said AMCAT is one of the top four public transit agencies in the state in terms of low cost and high ridership. Yet officials said the move is likely best for public transportation in the county.

“Cedar Valley Services will likely improve public transportation,” Austin Finance Director Tom Dankert said.

AMCAT will stay in business until the end of the year, when its busing fleet, building and all other assets would transfer over to Cedar Valley Services, assuming the nonprofit is given state funding to run public transit. The nonprofit likely will keep all AMCAT employees and routes, with the possibility of creating more county routes. City and county officials told the board there may be a temporary disruption in service when the switch takes place next year.

The AMCAT board passed a resolution that included support for Cedar Valley Services to take over the routes, though city and county officials said they’re ready to resume public transit should the need arise.

“If things get messed up, we want it back,” Dankert said. “We’ve got a good relationship in the city/county system. We know how to run things. We can start things back up again if necessary.”