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KAT announces its evening taxi service will cease at the end of this year

WILLMAR -- The evening taxi service that is subsidized by the Kandiyohi Area Transit system will end at the end of the year.

KAT's expansion committee will look for options to fill the evening transportation gap.

KAT currently pays RideNet $20 an hour to provide taxi service from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. on weekdays. Transit buses do not operate during those hours. In a letter, a RideNet spokesman said drug testing, insurance and the need to provide handicapped-accessible vehicles made it difficult for them to comply with KAT's requirements and that RideNet would no longer provide rides. The last day of service is Dec. 31.

During a meeting Tuesday, members of the KAT operations board questioned how the taxi service could be replaced, or if it should be replaced at all.

KAT pays the taxi $20,000 a year, whether it provides rides or not. According to ridership numbers, there were many nights when KAT paid RideNet and no rides were provided.

Transit Director Tiffany Collins said the average ridership for the taxi has been one or two rides per hour during the last year. But that include about 18 riders who take the taxi home every Monday night from bowling.

If those once-a-week riders are not included in the statistics, the average hourly ridership slips below one an hour many months.

Even at its peak last February when there were nearly three riders per hour, it was well below the five rides per hour that had been established as the goal when the taxi program was initially funded three years ago, Collins said.

The board discussed the possibility of leasing a handicapped-accessible van, hiring staff and providing its own evening taxi service.

But considering that so few people use the taxi, the board agreed a more likely scenario would be to use a transit bus for the Monday night bowlers, which includes riders who have disabilities, and not provide evening taxi service to others.

While that would be a hardship for those individuals who need a ride home from work at night, board members said it may be hard to justify the cost to continue the program as it currently operates.

There is also a private taxi service available in Willmar, but a KAT subsidy voucher could not be used for that service.

Collins said the KAT joint powers board has warned that the evening taxi would be one of the first services to be cut if there are budget issues next year.

KAT will provide reimbursements for vouchers that have already been purchased but won't be used by Dec. 31.

In other action:

? The board was informed KAT expects to see about $50,000 in savings in the 2009 budget because of lower-than-expected fuel prices.

? Because of concerns about extra costs charged by their auditing firm in the past, the board agreed to rebid a two-year contract for auditing services that would include more specific language to avoid unexpected fees.

Carolyn Lange

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

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