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Bus riders to benefit from new route on Highway 12

A Kandiyohi Area Transit bus makes a stop Wednesday in Atwater. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR –– Buses are now rolling up and down U.S. Highway 12 between Willmar and Litchfield three days a week, giving new transit options to people in Litchfield, Grove City, Atwater, Kandiyohi and Willmar who need rides to medical appointments, social services, shopping errands or lunch dates at one end of the route or the other.

The Highway 12 route is a new cooperative program between the Kandiyohi Area Transit and Meeker Public Transit that’s funded, in part, with a two-year “Transit for our Future” grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The target ridership is senior citizens, including those that use adult day services, senior dining sites and Block Nurse programs, and individuals who use social service programs.

“We want to fill some of these gaps we’re seeing in transportation,” said Tiffany Collins, KAT transit director.

Buses will make regular stops Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at central locations, including the Block Nurse sites in Atwater and Grove City. Drivers will pick up people at their doorstep if they live two miles on either side of Highway 12.

Buses will make the trip from Willmar to Litchfield three times a day, starting at 7:30 a.m. in Litchfield. The last trip of the day leaves Willmar at 3 p.m.

The route was launched March 24.

“We’ve been ironing out some of the bugs in the program,” said Collins. “It’s a very positive change. It just takes time to get these things off the ground.”

In the past the Kandiyohi County and Meeker County transit programs only traveled in their county service area.

Collins said because there is a need for people to travel between the counties to receive services or get to medical appointments, like dialysis or cancer treatments, they continued to work through the red tape to make the program work.

The goal is to have a minimum of five riders per hour. So far that goal hasn’t been met but Collins said there’s been at least 1-2 riders.

Recent promotions, and assistance from partners at the Block Nurse programs in Atwater and Grove City, are helping to get the word out.

Currently, some of the people who could benefit from the Highway 12 route may use the senior volunteer driver program that picks people up at their homes and takes them to appointments.

But Collins said the demand, and the cost, for that program is very high and those volunteer drivers are needed to take people to medical appointments in the Twin Cities or Rochester.

Providing buses for close-to-home clients will free up the drivers for long distance assignments, said Collins, but volunteer drivers will be needed for the days the buses aren’t making the Highway 12 run.

The fee for the Highway 12 route is $6 per trip from Litchfield/Grove City to Willmar and from Willmar/Kandiyohi to Litchfield.

The cost is $3 from Atwater/Kandiyohi to Willmar and from Atwater/Grove City to Litchfield.

Medical Assistance provides reimbursement for some transit fees.

With the help of the $75,000 annual MnDOT grant, KAT will provide the vehicle, drivers and dispatch services and the Meeker Public Transit will store the bus in Litchfield.

Meanwhile, KAT is working with the transit system in Renville County to develop a new merged entity.

There are currently shared transit routes between the two counties but the new partnership will allow the counties to apply for a joint MnDOT grant and have coordinated programs that are expected to increase services and decrease expenditures.

That process is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

For more information about the Highway 12 route, departure times and how to use the service, call KAT at 214-7433 or 888- 750-7433, or the Meeker Public Transit at 320-693-7794 or 800-513-7433.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750