Fond du Lac public transit buses hit the road
The Fond du Lac Reservation reached a major milestone this week with the startup of its new public transit bus system. "Our primary goal is to get people to employment," explained Amy Wicklund, economic development planner for the reservation. "B...
The Fond du Lac Reservation reached a major milestone this week with the startup of its new public transit bus system.
"Our primary goal is to get people to employment," explained Amy Wicklund, economic development planner for the reservation. "Beyond that, we hope it will provide a means to get to medical appointments, shopping trips, visiting friends or whatever else people need to do during the day."
Jason Hollinday, Fond du Lac planning director, said the idea to implement a transit system resulted from general discussions and surveys with residents of the reservation over the past several years.
"The bus service is simply a part of the progression the band is focusing on to create infrastructure and services for its people," stated Hollinday.
Wicklund said the tribal council wants the emphasis of the new transit program to be on giving people access to employment.
"If you live in a rural area and don't have a car, you have a hard time getting back and forth to work," she said. "There is existing bus service in the area provided by AEOA and Arrowhead Transit through the Dial-A-Ride system. But much of the reservation is located in rural areas and those services can't cover all of it as much as we'd like."
To help fund the purchase of buses, the Fond du Lac Reservation applied for and received a Minnesota Department of Transportation grant under the Federal Transportation Bill. The funding helped purchase two $60,000, 16-passenger buses, along with a partial match from the reservation itself.
"It took a long time to go through all the federal and state processes," admitted Wicklund. "It's been in progress for almost three years."
One of Wicklund's first jobs when she came to work at the reservation last spring was to develop a transit plan to have in place before proceeding with the purchase of the buses.
"We want to do a scheduled work run to Duluth first thing in the morning and then back here at the end of the day, explained Dan Lund, Fond du Lac transportation supervisor. "We are also looking at a scheduled circle route on the reservation to get people to and from different job sites around here.
"In the middle of the day, we will do demand response service [similar to Dial-A-Ride] for those who call up and request it the day before."
"We don't want to be like a taxi service where you call up and say, 'I need a ride right now - hurry up!'" said Wicklund.
Following the approval of the transit plan last May, the reservation ordered the buses, which arrived earlier this fall.
The two 16-passenger buses also have wheelchair lifts for anyone who is handicapped or has trouble getting up and down stairs. Each bus can accommodate two wheelchairs in addition to the 16 passengers. The drivers will have both cell phones and two-way radios on board.
Lund emphasized the new bus service is for anybody in the community.
"Anyone who wants a ride can use the bus," said Lund. "You don't have to live on the reservation. It's public transit."
The current plan is to have the bus service run daily during the work week, and buses will only be shut down on the days when the Tribal Center is officially closed.
"In the case of inclement weather that comes up during the day," said Lund, "our goal is to be sure people get home. If we brought them into town, we'll make sure to get them back again."
The reservation has hired two full-time and one part-time drivers, with the potential to add more routes and drivers as the need arises.
"We plan to start out small and work up," commented Hollinday.
Lund, who has worked in the bus business for 26 years, will oversee and coordinate the schedules and drivers.
Hollinday credited Arrowhead Transit, along with others who operate area transit systems, for meeting with the planners from the reservation and being "very helpful" in getting Fond du Lac's new transit system up and running.
"They wanted to work the schedule out with us so we're not just running on top of each other," said Hollinday. "We're trying to figure out the most convenient ways of supplementing each other's schedules."
He said the White Earth Reservation was also very helpful to the Fond du Lac Reservation.
"They are three or four months ahead of us in starting their own transit system," said Hollinday, "and it has been very useful to learn what they've found out already."
All the information regarding scheduling, rates, bus stops, phone numbers, etc. are on the reservation Web site at: www.fdlrez.com .
The phone number for the bus system is (218) 878-7500.
The buses currently run weekdays between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. There is limited weekend availability. Fees locally are $1 each way on the reservation and in the Cloquet areas.
The Duluth scheduled runs are $2 each way, with children age five and under free when riding with an adult. Child restraint seats are available on both buses.
Schedules are subject to change.