Thief River Falls bus service sees big gains
A bus service that operates in seven northwest Minnesota counties is seeing a big increase in ridership in part because more people are commuting to jobs in Thief River Falls.
To meet demand, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, a Crookston-based nonprofit group, is adding more routes.
Between 2012 and 2013, Tri-Valley’s Rural Transportation Collaborative saw the number of riders go up 37 percent from 86,000 to 118,000, according to program director Cynthia Pic.
The increase largely can be attributed to the commuter bus service Tri-Valley began offering last year from East Grand Forks and Crookston to Digi-Key, a Thief River Falls-based electronics component distributor that employs more than 2,600.
Last month, the agency added Saturday bus service between Crookston and Thief River Falls. This month, it added bus service between Bagley, Minn., and Thief River Falls.
Part of the reason maybe the housing shortage in Thief River Falls, where builders have struggled to keep up with the growing work force at Digi-Key and other employers. Digi-Key is encouraging workers to use the bus by subsidizing fares.
Tri-Valley is also guaranteeing many of its existing rural route where, in the past, service has been cancelled on occasion, according to Pic.
“We’re trying to build better trust in the public transportation system,” she said. “If you’re scheduling a medical appointment, that route will make the run. We won’t drop any routes because of lack of riders.”
Besides the routes in East Grand Forks, Crookston and Thief River Falls, Tri-Valley provides weekly or bi-weekly service in Warren, Hendrum, Halstad, Ada, Twin Valley, Hallock and Karlstad.
The group also serves the University of Minnesota-Crookston and the East Grand Forks and Thief River Falls campuses of Northland Community and Technical College.
Tri-Valley has been in the transportation business since 2009. Eighty percent of the funding comes from the state Department of Transportation and the remainder comes from donations and fares.