Looking to pick up where negotiations at the county level failed, communities such as St. Michael, Otsego, Albertville and Monticello met with leaders of Glencoe-based Trailblazer Transit Monday, June 30 at St. Michael City Hall.
The communities, which were looking to join a Joint Powers Agreement with the bus and transit service that already has eight members countywide, walked away with a few things to chew on, according to St. Michael City Administrator Steve Bot.
“In the end, it’s going to come down to each city council to decide what’s best for them, based on the terms proposed by Trailblazer. It’s going to be a different arrangement, for sure. We will have to really examine our numbers for cost and see if it’s the best thing for our community. We’ll then share that information with the council at our meeting on Tuesday [July 8],” Bot said.
The council has, somewhat, already weighed in here in St. Michael. Member and current State Representative Candidate Kevin Kasel said he’s opposed to passing transit costs on to the cities, which is basically what a JPA does. However, ride share would be based on sheer numbers, so communities such as Monticello, which relied heavily on River Rider transit, would pay their fair share.
Kasel argues that St. Michael, with its population, would be left holding a bigger bag than other communities using a simple ridership percentage model.
All those involved in the JPA discussion agree that this is an issue that should have been handled at the county level. Yet, the Wright County Commission failed to come to an agreement on how to proceed with countywide transit once River Rider losts its funding and was disenfranchised by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and Met Council. Bad management of the River Rider portfolio was blamed for the system’s failure.
It’s really tough timing for St. Michael, which just opted into River Rider for its seniors this year. Albertville, too, would have seen an increase in River Rider usage with the opening of Engel Haus senior center, owned by Guardian Angels, this fall.
“Everyone hoped this would be negotiated at the county level, and for one reason or another, that failed to happen and the county led us down this road. We’re at crunch time. Either we move forward with a JPA or we simply won’t have transit after July 8. So it’s a disappointing situation and there’s plenty of blame to go around.”
Albertville will hand down its decision tonight, July 7, at its council meeting, set for 7 p.m.
According to Trailblazer, a JPA with Wright County cities would look much like its agreement with Sibley and McLeod counties.
A Dial-A-Ride bus service and a volunteer driver program both operate under the Trailblazer name. Up to thirteen elevator-equipped buses driven by paid, professional drivers currently serve the two counties. Approximately fifteen volunteer drivers use their own vehicles to support the buses while they are in operation and to transport customers who need to travel outside the counties.
Wright County’s concern, however, is that most townships, which worked with River Rider, would not be included in a JPA, under state law.