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The buses will keep on running

By Staff | Aug 28, 2016

Members of the Faribault and Martin County Transit Board look over the budget proposal for next year, which includes purchasing a new bus and running the transit service in-house.

After thorough discussion of the impending termination of a contract with Fairlakes Transportation at its meeting in July, the Faribault and Martin County Transit Board made it clear Wednesday that plans for ongoing area bus services are fully underway.

“I think we’re on track,”?said Jeremy Monahan, director of Prairie Lakes Transit. “My feeling is that by the second-to-last week of September or so, there will be a day I?can go to Fairlakes and tell them we’re taking over.”

That is exactly what the board intends to do after, in July, revealing that Fairlakes, the operator of the counties’ public transit system, requested its own two-year contract be discontinued. And steps have been taken to bring the operation in-house, according to Monahan.

The biggest hurdle, he went on to share, was the creation of a proposed 2017 operations budget, which the board’s executive committee had previously discussed and, later in voted to approve contingent on approval by the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The budget, tentatively set at $1,393,850, includes funds for the purchase of a new bus and is “significantly different”?than the financial plans of last year’s transit service.

“That’s mainly because it’d be an in-house operation,”?Monahan said. “There’d be a bigger burden of insurance in some cases, but we’d also have some better deals in other areas.”

Overall, the proposed budget would task the board with contributing $212,877.50 toward the operation, whereas the remaining share of $1,180,972.50 would come from MnDOT.

“Are we expecting the farebox revenue to cover our expenses?”?asked Faribault County commissioner John Roper, perusing the budget.

Fellow commissioner and board chair Bill Groskreutz chimed in with a response echoed by Monahan.

“That’s what we hope.”

In reality, Monahan said, the entire budget is merely a hopeful projection of what can and cannot be afforded under the board’s takeover of transit operations. But things can be adjusted, and as the budget stands, projected farebox revenue of $198,000, coupled with system revenue bus and advertising sales included of an estimated $15,000 would give the board just more than enough to cover the proposed costs.

“We’re here to break even,”?Monahan said, “and that’s what we’re shooting for.”

In the meantime, while the budget is looked over by MnDOT’s Jean Meyer and Monahan keeps in contact with Fairlakes co-owner and operator Nancy Gunther, the board is in the midst of its own hiring process for its anticipated fall transition.

“Job applications are being received, and interviews are being conducted and scheduled,”?Monahan said. “There’s been a fairly high percentage of internal Fairlakes applicants as well as external candidates.”

The job openings include administrative duties to aid the board’s planned oversight of the transit, not to mention bus driver positions each of which would otherwise be vacated when Fairlakes stops servicing the operation, presumably by the end of September.

“I think Fairlakes was right on the cusp of having enough drivers,”?Monahan said, “so we’re always looking to fill those positions, and we’ll keep looking for applicants for our own startup.”

Advertising help in obtaining commercial driver’s licenses along with driver openings, Faribault County commissioner Tom Loveall suggested, could help the board’s search for its own employees, too.

“Maybe we work with them for CDL?requirements,”?he said. “Market it as, ‘We’ll help you,’ and it could bring people in.”

So, too, could reminders that the board’s expected split with Fairlakes will not spell the end of bus service in Faribault and Martin counties, at least as long as plans continue moving forward.

“We’ve talked about some advertising changes and some possible changes in routes,”?Groskreutz said, “but the operation will continue.”