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Bus service to help get late-night patrons of local bars home safely

WILLMAR –– A transit program to get late-night bar patrons home safely on weekends is in the works for Willmar and Spicer.

The “Joy Ride” service is expected to be launched before the July 4 weekend and will continue through Labor Day.

The project is the result of the cooperation and donations of five restaurants/bars, liquor vendors, the Kandiyohi Area Transit and the Kandiyohi County Safe Community Coalition.

The Friday and Saturday night service will focus on a route between Spicer and Willmar, with home-delivery of riders in a 6-mile radius of Spicer and within the city limits of Willmar.

“Our hopes and goals are to reduce impaired driving arrests and traffic crashes,” said Stephanie Felt, coordinator for the Kandiyohi County Safe Community Coalition. “It’s to keep people safe, keep people from getting DWIs and keep people safe on our roadways.”

Similar sober cab programs have been proven to reduce the number of crashes and DWIs in those communities, Felt said.

Although details are still being finalized, the program is tentatively set to begin June 20.

That will give drivers, participating bars and coordinators a chance to work out the kinks before the big July 4 holiday, when the Joy Ride bus will be available during the Thursday street dance in Spicer, as well as the weekend when thousands of locals and tourists come to town, Felt said.

In an update Friday morning to the KAT joint powers board, Transit Director Tiffany Collins said a 16-19 passenger KAT bus and driver will be used for the program, which will include picking up patrons around closing time at Zorbaz, O’Neil’s and the American Legion in Spicer and the Oaks and VFW in Willmar.

The bus will make stops around closing time and bring people

Each of the five businesses contributed $200 and two liquor vendors, Bernick’s and Madison Bottling, contributed $1,500, said Felt. The Kandiyohi County Sheriff’s Department also kicked in some money.

Riders will pay a $7 fee to ride the bus, by purchasing tickets at the bar. Financial transactions won’t take place on the bus, said Collins.

The target crowd is young male adult, said Felt, adding that using the “Joy Ride” name for the program, rather than “sober cab” had a more positive spin that could “promote tourism and keep people safe.” It was also a name that resonated with males in the 20-30 age range, said Felt.

With the funds and fees, Collins said KAT is expected to break even on the Joy Ride program.

Felt said it’s hoped that if the program goes well this summer that other businesses will want to participate next year, which could warrant adding another bus and driver to the route.

In other transit news:

*Work is continuing on efforts to merge the transit systems in Kandiyohi County and Renville County. The Joint Powers Board suggested adding language to the lengthy proposed agreement that would encourage arbitration and negotiations to work out any potential issues before a termination notice would be accepted.

A meeting will be held Tuesday with employees of the two entities to address concerns and questions about wages, insurance and policies they may have with a merged transit system.

- An update on the new Highway 12 route between Willmar and Litchfield has been getting steady ridership since it started two months ago. A new software system is being tried out that could help the two entities coordinate passengers and ride times.

- The board agreed to purchase a bus shelter that would be located at Ridgewater College.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750