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KAT waits for state funding to replace bus wrecked in crash last September

WILLMAR -- A wrecked bus and tight state financing is putting a pinch on the Kandiyohi Area Transit system's vehicle fleet. While not a "crisis" situation at this point, Transit Director John Groothuis told the KAT operations board on Tuesday he'...

WILLMAR -- A wrecked bus and tight state financing is putting a pinch on the Kandiyohi Area Transit system's vehicle fleet.

While not a "crisis" situation at this point, Transit Director John Groothuis told the KAT operations board on Tuesday he's concerned about KAT's ability to operate if state funding for a replacement bus is not forthcoming.

In September, a KAT bus was totaled in an accident in Willmar.

That bus was not scheduled to be replaced until 2010 and there is no state financial mechanism to replace lost buses earlier, Groothuis said.

To add insult to injury, KAT was required to turn over $11,100 from the insurance company to the state.

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He said requests for a replacement bus, estimated to cost $61,159, have been denied so far.

On Tuesday, the board approved allocating nearly $12,000 in local revenues in case state funding is approved in the coming weeks. The state pays 80 percent of the cost of public transit buses, with the rest coming from local sources.

KAT was able to maintain its routes by using a 1999 model bus that had been scheduled to be sold last fall. That bus has 180,000 miles on it and is being "babied along" to keep it running, said Tiffany Collins, KAT operations manager.

If the accident had happened a month later, she said, the 1999 bus would have already been sold and KAT would have been short one bus.

Groothuis said other transit systems have been forced to rent buses on occasion when they have lost buses in accidents. He said KAT was lucky that it had an old spare that could be temporarily used.

The state has, however, approved funding for KAT to purchase a new $92,665 bus this summer to replace another bus that is past its prime and will be sold. KAT's share is $18,553, with Willmar and Kandiyohi County each contributing $9,000.

KAT has also received a $46,400 grant to purchase a $68,103 bus that will not be part of the transit fleet, but will be leased to entities to transport people to group activities. The bus, which has the capability of carrying six wheelchairs, will be primarily used for senior citizens and people with developmental disabilities.

The burgundy-colored bus will be marketed to entities such as nursing homes or group homes.

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Also Tuesday, the board heard the results of a survey it conducted of Willmar churches regarding the need for Sunday morning transportation services. KAT sent out 25 surveys and 11 were returned. The responses indicated four of the 11 churches were meeting the transportation needs of their members; five churches were meeting those needs "sometimes" and two churches had unmet transportation needs.

The board said more research is needed to determine if it would be feasible for KAT to offer Sunday morning bus services.

Ridership has been steadily increasing, with monthly figures for 2007 showing higher ridership than 2006 in all but two months.

Saturday bus rides are also increasing. Collins said if the Saturday figures continue to grow, another bus will have to be added. Currently two buses run Saturdays.

Efforts to get senior citizens to ride a special KAT route to the senior dining facility in Willmar have not been as successful as hoped. The board agreed to keep it going for at least another month while efforts are renewed to recruit riders.

Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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