The Monticello City Council decided at its Aug. 11 meeting to approve an interim plan for providing public transportation service for Monticello residents.
City Administrator Jeff O’Neill described the situation in an Aug. 11 background memo to council. “There has been some difficulty in getting the [former] River Rider service replaced,” O’Neill said. “Because of that, we’ve had a number of complaints from citizens and there have been considerable wait times to get service that’s currently available. Hoglund Transportation has proposed to bridge that gap.”
According to O’Neill, Monticello has an existing base of riders and associated need for transit service that has developed over the years through the longstanding operation of the Heartland Express and River Rider systems.
“For various reasons, and not all of Trailblazer’s making, it has been challenging for Trailblazer to absorb the added responsibility for serving Wright County which has resulted in gaps in service for 2014,” O’Neil stated in his memo, adding the city has received a number of complaints that the bus is simply not available or the reservation process requires an excessively long advanced notice.
In the weeks following the ending of River Rider bus service, Hoglund Transportation has been supporting the community by providing a modified cab service to residents at a cost of $4 per ride instead of the standard $6 charge.
O’Neill asked city leaders if they were willing to supplement this package further on a per ride basis by contributing an additional $2 per ride thus decreasing the cost per ride to $2, which is the likely fare that will be charged once the permanent system is in place.
Under the interim plan, O’Neil said this rate would be available from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.The vehicles used by Hoglund Transportation would be at their discretion; however a handicap accessible vehicle would be available as the need arises. Hoglund Transportation would keep a daily log of rides and then bill the city on a monthly basis until the program is replaced by the longer-term solution.
“If the city council supports the implementation of this plan, then the city will immediately act to provide notices to residents and communicate the availability of transit service via Hoglund Transportation.
However, O’Neill stated there is a possibility Trailblazer Transit may offer to provide service to Monticello on a contract basis.
Under this concept, Trailblazer would operate a bus in Monticello from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.on an annual basis at a set rate of $40,000. “Monticello would not be part of WCAT under this arrangement,” O’Neill said. “I have thanked [Trailblazer Transit Executive Director Gary Ludwig for opening the door to the possibility which would first need to be approved by WCAT, the Trailblazer Board, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Finally, in speaking with Joe Kounkel and Gordy Hoglund, they stated they are comfortable with waiting on word from Trailblazer and Tri-Cap and their offer for providing service stands,” O’Neill’s background memo concluded.
He added: “Not only is Hoglund willing to provide interim service while waiting on a decision, but Hoglund has offered to modify their original proposal by adding hours to the daily service.”
According to O’Neill, the cost for bus service to the city would remain at $40,000 annually; however, the entire farebox revenue would go to Hoglund. The company assumethe risk of generating the additional $20,000 in farebox revenue needed to make the program profitable. The Hoglund option would require a two-year commitment’ O’Neill estimated 1,500 to 3,000 riders Aug. 15 to Dec. 30.
“The budget impact of an interim plan is going to be relatively nominal,” O’Neill said. “I’m not really sure how many rides we will be seeing with this proposal.”
Councilmember Glen Posusta asked O’Neill why it wasn’t possible for the city to extract a ride count from previous data. O’Neill replied: “That might be difficult because we won’t require Hoglund to have a bus per se. They might have a variety of vehicles. They still have to get a bus. They are not going to buy a bus unless they have the contract with Monticello. If we get the deal going with them quicker, they will have the bus quicker and the interim plan will drop off sooner.”
According to O’Neill, if the city was just using Hoglund’s taxis or a van, and if there was someone who was disabled who needed a ride, they Hoglund would bring out a vehicle to handle a wheelchair. “This is just an interim way to move forward,” O’Neill said.
Mayor Clint Herbst said it was important to note that proposed Hoglund service option didn’t represent an opportunity for private taxi rides. “They might pick up fares at the same time,” Herbst said. “There could be different passengers in that vehicle in order to keep those costs down.”
Herbst said the city could continue to talk with the various players involved in the Monticello transportation issue while an interim plan was in place. “This would give us transportation now,” Herbst said.
Posusta asked if it would be possible to charge more for rides Herbst said it would be better to have that discussion after the first of the year. He suggested the interim plan be used through December. Posusta replied: “Don’t you think people are willing to pay more for the convenience?” Posusta asked.
Councilmember Brian Stumpf said the thing that frustrated him was that Trailblazer Transit had come back to the city and wanted to match prices with Hoglund.
O’Neill said the interim transportation would be designed to serve as a bridge until the city could make a decision regarding 2015 transportation service.
“We could actually get them going before the end of the year, but we’ve got this interim period where we don’t know exactly where Tri-Cap is at and we are in between two other proposals,” he said. “If you wanted to, you could just go with Hoglund based on their latest offer and forget the interim plan.”
Posusta replied to Stumpf by stating the city didn’t even “want to consider” Trailblazer Transit because a five-year commitment was wanted. “I understand that,” Stumpf replied. “I just don’t like it that they came in and matched Hoglund’s price and think that we are going to jump on board.”
O’Neill said the idea with Trailblazer was something that “just came up” to see if the city was interested. “It hasn’t been approved by the Trailblazer board,” O’Neil said. “It hasn’t been approved by the Wright County or the Wright County Area Transit (WCAT) board.”
Herbst said he appreciated Trailblazer was trying to address the city’s concerns, but Hoglund, a local provider, was willing to provide the same service for the same amount.
“This gives us some time to figure this out, and not penalize the residents who really need this service to keep going. I think this is a good option to get people back where they need to be.”
Posusta then made a motion to adopt an interim plan to use Hoglund Transportation for transit services, and have the Monticello City Council provide specific direction for selecting a provider for 2015.
Stumpf provided a quick second after Councilmember Lloyd Hilgart asked a question about the difference between the action alternatives presented by city staff.
The council was asked to consider a motion to adopt an interim plan to use Hoglund Transportation for transit services, directing staff to continue to work with Hoglund Transportation, Tri-Cap, and Trailblazer Transit in developing options for 2015, consider a motion to adopt an interim plan to use Hoglund Transportation for transit services, and have the council provide specific direction for selecting a provider for 2015 or come up with something different.
O’Neill said if Hoglund was able to get the needed bus online within three weeks, the city of Monticello would stop the interim plan and go straight with Hoglund. “I talked to Tri-Cap Executive Director Lori Schultz,” O’Neill said. She’s very appreciative of our interest to join up. Their director of transit is retiring. She would really like to consider this in the future  , because right now, they don’t feel they have the capacity to provide service on the level needed.”
Posusta said that’s why he was leaning more towards using Hoglund Transportation.“This is more than a four-month deal. That’s what the first alternative suggests.”
O’Neill said staff needed specific direction. Herbst wanted all three in the loop.
Stumpf then withdrew his second to Posusta’s motion, stating a lack of understanding regarding interpretation of the second alternative. Stump then made a motion to adopt an interim plan to use Hoglund Transportation for transit services, and direct staff to continue to work with Hoglund Transportation, TriCap, and Trailblazer Transit in developing options for 2015. Stumpf’s motion was seconded by Hilgart.
“This is probably a $3,000 to $6,000 interim plan,” O’Neill confirmed, adding transit hours would be 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. “As soon as I get the green light, I’ll be changing all of the notices,” he said.
Council unanimously approved the first alternative, the interim plan using Hoglund Transportation, with staff to continue to work with Hoglund, TriCap, and Trailblazer in developing 2015 options.
Contact Tim Hennagir at [email protected]