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One transportation service ending, another taking its place

The senior van, a transportation service provided by Pequot Lakes Community Education for the past 30 years, will conclude its service at the end of June. Concerned residents should know there is an alternative for their transportation needs.

The senior van operates within the Pequot Lakes area every Tuesday. Though it is available to anyone who needs its service, it mostly serves senior citizens living in low-income housing in Pequot Lakes. The van also transports passengers to Brainerd once a month.

After June 25, however, the van will cease operation. The Crow Wing County Transit’s Dial a Ride service is prepared to take its place.

“Crow Wing County Transit is in a position to offer transportation services in this area. Up until this point they had been doing the Dial A Ride service only in the Brainerd-Baxter area, and now they have expanded and they are available here,” said Julie Despot, Pequot Lakes Community Education director and volunteer coordinator.

“We’re lucky that there’s another option. It’s really hard to get volunteer drivers, too,” said Shirlee Anderson, assistant director of the Pequot Lakes Housing Authority.

This change is due to a series of issues, and cost is one of them. In past years, the senior van was also used to fulfill the transportation needs of Pequot Lakes School when it was not being used otherwise. This helped to offset the cost of the van. That is no longer the case.

“The van is too old. It can no longer be used for student transport. The Department of Education has declared after 12 years that a van is not considered to be serviceable for student use,” said Despot. “We have some mechanical problems, and with very small numbers of people riding we just don’t have the revenue to keep it up and keep it in operation.”

It was decided not to replace the van.

“We were not in a position where we wanted to try to fundraise to try to obtain a new van and continue to sustain this program when there already is a service set up for that purpose. It just seemed like it was time to transition out of that service,” Despot said.

The van currently has very few riders who would need to make the change. Some past riders have already transitioned.

“On a regular basis we pretty much had six that rode our van, but we have technically seven more than that that have converted to Crow Wing County because they know this is ending,” Anderson said. “I don’t think it will have a huge impact. We don’t have a whole lot that utilize it and they have been slowly converting.”

The Dial A Ride service will operate at a comparable cost to the senior van. The senior van offered $3 rides within Pequot Lakes and $5 rides to Brainerd. The big difference is that riders will now be expected to pay for each stop. Furthermore, senior van drivers have been known to offer very personal service, even carrying groceries for their riders. This could change with Dial A Ride.

“We know some of the former riders have started to use it but we just want to be sure people who have been riding with the senior van understand they will not be left without transportation. It might be a different form of transportation and they have a different number they need to call,” Despot said. “We’re hoping the transit services from Crow Wing County Transit program are going to meet the needs of people.“

“Thank you for the volunteers through the years. It wouldn’t have run without the volunteers,” Anderson said.

The Crow Wing County Public Transit Dial A Ride service operates from 7:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. Interested parties may contact the service at 218-825-7433 or 866-925-7433.