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Crow Wing Transit merger could solve Ride With Us Bus budget problems

On the first of the year, the Pine River Ride With Us Bus was forced by budget constraints to cut its service by two days, but a merger with Crow Wing Transit could prevent future cuts and increase service in the area.

Brainerd Transit Coordinator Tom Jay met with the Pine River City Council during its regular meeting July 9 to present the council with a very positive outlook.

“We’ve been working with the office of transit for the past year or so, looking at some opportunities to maybe work together with Crow Wing County and Brainerd transit service and the City of Pine River service to see if there’s opportunities to maybe merge the systems together,” Jay said. “It’s a priority of the office of transit to look at reducing the number of contracts that they operate throughout the state of Minnesota, and MnDot, looking at assistance throughout the state, kind of identified some systems that were really close geographically that operate similar services, and the Crow Wing County and Pine River services made a lot of sense.”

Jay explained that bus service in Pine River would still run three days a week under the merger, though there could eventually be service runs to Brainerd. Jay also explained that the service would remain the same in most other ways including cost, accessibility, and same-day appointments.

“We’ve come to the conclusion that it can be done without a whole lot of effort. The system is very similar,” Jay said.

Jay said the two services could complete a merger this fall.

No decision was made, but all council members showed interest in the merger, though some requested more information.

In light of the possible merger, the council also decided to cease advertising to replace retiring bus driver Curt Peterson, as drivers would be hired and managed by Crow Wing Transit under the merger.

Though Crow Wing Transit also has its own transit managers, the Pine River Council approved the hiring of Terry Dabill as transit manager for the Ride With Us Bus to fill the vacancy left by Val Kuschel. City Clerk Wanda Mongan explained that Dabill would stay on with the city even in the case of a merger, as the city office will still require help to assist in duties there.

“I don’t ever see that office ever running with 1 1/2 or 1 3/4 people ever again,” Mongan said.

The city also renewed their agreement with the state of Minnesota to provide public transportation services in Pine River for 2014. The agreement resolved that the city will provide a “local share of 15 percent of the total operating cost and 20 percent of the total capital costs.”