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KAT won't leave bowlers stranded in 2010

WILLMAR -- A group of bowlers who depend on public transportation to get home after their Monday night games won't be left stranded in 2010.

The Kandiyohi Area Transit's joint powers board agreed Friday to make a bus and driver available for two hours each Monday night for the bowlers, who are primarily individuals with disabilities.

That will be welcome news for the 10 to 20 people who had been riding a KAT bus to get to the Willmar bowling alley and then using KAT's evening taxi to get home.

The evening taxi service is ending at the end of the month.

"It's a big concern for Arc," said Kandiyohi County Commissioner Dean Shuck, referring to Arc Kandiyohi, an advocacy group for individuals with disabilities and their families.

At a meeting with local and state elected officials Thursday sponsored by Arc, several of those bowlers expressed concern about losing the taxi service and the ability to independently get home after their games.

During the Arc meeting, Kandiyohi County Commissioner Richard Falk said KAT would provide some form of transportation for the Monday bowlers -- a promise that was greeted with cheers and applause.

Falk led the discussion Friday morning at the joint powers board meeting to fulfill that promise.

Falk said there is "no reason" why KAT can't provide a bus after-hours on Monday. He said people with disabilities are the "biggest base of clients" for KAT and that the night out for bowling is important to them. "They can't afford to take a taxi."

Since 2007, KAT has contracted with Care Cab to provide an evening taxi service from 5:30-9:30 p.m., when KAT buses do not operate. Care Cab notified KAT that it would not continue the contract in 2010.

KAT's operations board is looking at ways to replace the taxi service, said Transit Director Tiffany Collins, but there has been no solution thus far.

Last year the taxi contract cost KAT $20,000 to provide about 100 to 125 rides a month -- far short of the five rides an hour that had been set as the goal. The highest ridership has been on Monday, taking people home from the bowling alley, Collins said.

She said there are about 65 people that participate in the bowling program. She hopes that making the bus available each Monday will increase the number of riders who use it.

Riders will pay the normal route fee to ride the bus Monday night, Collins said. It will be cheaper than the taxi.

There has been no decision yet whether KAT will provide any other kind of evening public transportation.

There is a private taxi service operating in Willmar, Central Minnesota Taxi Service. KAT is unable to contract with them for service because of requirements to provide handicapped-accessible vehicles.

In other action:

- Collins said KAT will receive a 5 percent increase in 2010 funding from the Minnesota Department of Transportation. With fuel costing less this year than last year, she said the budget is better than expected.

- The board was informed that ridership on the new Job Access Reverse Commute route that was meant to service residents and employers on the west side of Willmar has been lower than expected. Collins said KAT will continue to work with Jennie-O Turkey Store to increase awareness of the route.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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