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Warmka: ‘Stop the bus’

By Staff | Aug 23, 2008

Tom Warmka

A letter of complaint about the Prairie Express bus service in Faribault County sparked a heated debate at last Tuesday’s county commissioner meeting.

The letter was from Elmore resident Janice Croom who outlined several complaints concerning her children riding the bus.

Although the letter detailed several problems, the most serious dealt with her children being dropped off late for an activity in Blue Earth.

The activity bus had already departed when her children arrived, and they were left alone at the site.

County Transit Coordinator Bonita Hagedorn read a two page response to the letter at Tuesday’s meeting. She outlined how the service works.

“We sometimes run late on our schedules, because the riders are late,” Hagedorn says. “We ask all riders to be ready five minutes before they are scheduled to get on the bus.”

She told the board the bus driver was unaware the children would not have someone looking after them when he dropped them off.

“Our responsibility is door-to-door,” she says. “However if our drivers are aware of a situation, such as no one being home when children or vulnerable adults are dropped off, they will call that in.”

County Commissioner Tom Warmka calls Croom’s letter a polite complaint, but he was upset.

“We have to get better with this,” he says. “I am ready to make a motion we stop this busing because I am not putting up with this anymore.”

Commissioner Bill Groskreutz thanked Hagedorn for coming to the meeting.

“There are always two sides to every situation, and we needed to hear yours,” he explains.

Commissioner Butch Erichsrud says he agrees that it is impossible to keep to a strict schedule, especially when they are dealing with the elderly, kids and no-shows.

“It is a flaw, this scheduling problem, but I have used this service and I am happy with it,” Erichsrud says.

Warmka says he hears more complaints in his district about the bus service than he does about any other topic, including roads.

“I’m upset because my people are upset,” he says. “They are upset because they help subsidize the busing, but get little benefit from it.”

Warmka pointed out that a recent weekly ridership report shows 25 riders from Blue Earth and zero from Minnesota Lake, Kiester and Walters.

“In my whole district it shows one drop off and four pickups,” Warmka says. The reason is the service is always booked up with riders.

“We have not had any complaints from your district in some time,” Hagedorn tells Warmka.

“That is because they got tired of calling,” he responded.

Warmka adds that one third of the county gets all the benefit of the service, while 100 percent help pay for it.

Another question from the commissioners dealt with the buses being used to transport people to and from the county fair. In past years as many as 500 riders were transported. This year it was 250.

“We probably won’t be doing that next year,” Hagedorn says. “However, nobody lost a ride to an appointment due to the fair.”

Croom’s letter also had some complaints about her children being dropped off late after an event. She felt a phone call informing her of the problem was in order.

Hagedorn told the board that they do not guarantee a direct route from point-to-point.

“In this case the driver took someone home to Guckeen before proceeding to Elmore,” she says.

Hagedorn says 98.8 percent of the riders are satisfied with the service. She calls the incident involving the Croom children “regrettable,” but adds that the bus drivers are always trying to get everyone to their appointments on time, as best they can.