by ALEXANDRA RETTER
Those who utilize the Winona Transit service’s demand-response dial-a-ride option will soon be able to get where they need to go later in the evening when the dial-a-ride operating hours are extended to 9 p.m. on Monday through Friday in the new year as a result of grant funds that the city recently received.
The extended hours for the dial-a-ride service are planned to begin on January 2, 2020, City Clerk Monica Hennessy Mohan said.
The new grant will be on a trial basis for two years, 2020 and 2021, Hennessy Mohan shared. The ridership will be reviewed in mid-2021.
“The city is excited to have additional grant funding so we can increase our services, and we’re hopeful that the public will utilize those services with enough turnout that we can maintain [the grant funding] beyond the two years,” Hennessy Mohan stated.
Carrie Heckman, a resident of Winona who volunteers at the Winona Catholic Worker house and has advocated for an extension to transit service hours, explained that the house has hospitality hours from about 4 to 8 p.m. on Monday through Friday. During these hours, people can do laundry, take a shower and enjoy a meal at 6 p.m.
Heckman realized that guests who rely on public transportation did not have a way to travel after the dinner hour. She began going to city meetings when possible transit service changes were discussed and asking for Sunday and evening service.
Heckman said she is glad the dial-a-ride service hours will be extended. “It means those in our community who depend on public transportation can enjoy the same opportunities for evening employment, evening socializing, evening educational opportunities … and cultural events at night,” Heckman said.
Denver Gilchrest, a resident of Winona who uses the transit system on a daily basis, stated that the dial-a-ride service extension would be helpful for him as he often runs out of work to catch the last bus of the day. He said that with the dial-a-ride service operating later in the evening, he would be able to work later.
Last spring, a survey asking about what kinds of improvements could be made to the transit service was made available to riders and the general public, Hennessy Mohan explained. People requested through this survey that the buses run later on weeknights, she noted.
Funding for evening services had been requested in the past, and this year, the request was funded. Hennessy Mohan said the grant covers 80 percent of operating costs, and the remaining 20 percent is covered by the city. She added that the hope is for the fares that riders pay to cover most of that local cost.
The city is required to complete a grant application annually, Hennessy Mohan said. She stated that the city frequently studies the transit system for improvements that could be made.
Hennessy Mohan noted that in addition to the dial-a-ride service, the transit system has been operating a deviated route service in which four routes cover most of the city. Buses on these routes will deviate, or go off route, but they will not deviate very far in order to stay on schedule.
The dial-a-ride option is a demand-response service, Hennessy Mohan stated. With this service, people may call dispatch and schedule a ride. Hennessy Mohan said a rider’s starting or end point for dial-a-ride service has to be at least four blocks from one of the current routes of the deviated route service.
Buses with the dial-a-ride service can cover a larger service area than the four routes of the deviated route service and will go up to two miles outside Winona and Goodview, Hennessy Mohan said. She explained that the dial-a-ride option is considered curb-to-curb service rather than door-to-door service in that one may be picked up or dropped off at one’s curb, but buses will not go into driveways and drivers will not walk one to the door.
Rides through the dial-a-ride service may be scheduled up to six days in advance, Hennessy Mohan said. She stated that rides may be scheduled for the same day as well.
Winona Transit service dispatch may be reached at 507-454-6666. The hours of operation for the service are currently 6 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 9:05 a.m. to 5:05 p.m. on Saturday.
Route schedules and maps may be found online at www.cityofwinona.com/city-services/city-clerks-office/winona-transit-services/. The cash fare for deviated route service is currently $1, and the cash fare for dial-a-ride service is currently $1.30. The rates will change to $1.25 and $2.50, respectively, on January 1, 2020. Punch cards, tokens and monthly bus passes are also available.