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KAT ridership improves after sluggish 2010

Kandiyohi Area Transit is seeing an increase in ridership over its numbers from last year. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Low ridership numbers that took a bite out of expected revenues for the Kandiyohi Area Transit system are starting to turn around.

KAT provided 118,562 rides in 2010. In 2009 the total was 124,185. It was even higher in 2008.

Transit Director Tiffany Collins linked the decline in ridership last year to an economy that has resulted in people "cutting back."

During 2010, Collins said, people were working fewer hours and therefore taking fewer rides to and from work. And she said regular riders who may have run errands two to three times a week were going once a week.

As a result, the fare box revenue was down for the year by the end of November. Expenses, however, were also below budget for 2010.

KAT started to see an upswing in rides in December.

The monthly ridership last month was even higher than it was the same time a year ago.

The increased numbers are continuing into January, said Doug Sweeter, operations coordinator.

December was the first time since last March that monthly KAT ridership went over 10,000 and "January is looking very good," he said.

The cold weather and high gas prices may have something to do with increased riders, Collins said. "I'm happy the ridership has come back up."

Sweeter said every KAT route has been very busy in the last two months, including general routes and a designated route that picks up riders in three residential neighborhoods early every morning and takes them to two job locations in Willmar's industrial park, including Jennie-O Turkey Store.

The route, which was made possible through federal funds from the Job Access and Reverse Commute program, is reversed in the evening to bring workers home.

At its meeting Thursday, the KAT operations board was told that the jobs route has been steadily increasing every month since it was started in June of 2009 when it had just four riders. Last month the route had 510 riders. Collins said the gradual growth of that route is "encouraging."

Collins said the route is popular with riders, who get on the bus at stops in downtown Willmar, on Lakeland Avenue and 19th Avenue, and go directly to their workplace in the industrial park. The direct route avoids others stops at medical centers or retail shops that are typical of KAT buses.

"It's a short, quick ride," Collins said. "People really like it."

Besides a reduction in fare box revenues, KAT has had other challenges, including high fuel prices and extensive and expensive mechanical repairs on two buses.

After a church backed out of a deal to purchase one of KAT's old buses for $500, mechanics are using it for spare parts to repair the other two buses, which is saving KAT well over $500 in parts costs.

In other action:

- Following a jury trial, KAT's insurance company agreed to pay $20,000 to the insurance company of the victim of a 2008 accident involving a KAT bus at the intersection on North Business 71 near the Law Enforcement Center. A 2007 accident that resulted in injuries was settled out of court. A KAT bus was involved in a minor accident Jan. 3.

- The board elected Darrell Ruch as chairman, Chad Christianson as vice chairman and Kevin Halliday as treasurer.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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