Getting to Seattle is easy, but what about West Union?

If you want to go to Chicago, just hop on the night train in Staples. Seattle? Sure, just hop on the night train in Staples. Passenger trains, Amtrak, only pass through in the dark of night but it’s a simple thing to catch the train.

What if you want to go from Staples to West Union, two points within Todd County? That’s not so simple if you don’t have a car since no form of public transit will get you there. You’d better catch a ride with a friend.

Public transit in rural Minnesota, however, is better than it’s ever been, and improving it was one of the topics Todd County residents raised at the community visioning session in Browerville earlier this month.

The Rainbow Rider and Friendly Rider buses will get you where you want to go, if you don’t want to go too far, are willing to go during daylight hours, or don’t mind paying a little more to go a little further.

The Rainbow Rider covers a five-county area in west central Minnesota, including southern Todd County. The wheels of the Friendly Rider go round and round in Wadena County and the city of Staples.

While the two bus systems look alike, their schedules aren’t the same. The Rainbow Rider has no schedule. Simply call (1-800-450-7770) in advance, preferably a day ahead, for your dial-a-ride pick-up at your door. You’ll pay $2 for up to five miles, one way; $4 for 5 to 10 miles, $5 from there to 20 miles and add on $2 for each additional ten miles.

People of all ages use the Rainbow Rider for weekday grocery runs, trips to the clinic or the daily commute to school. The buses are handicap accessible and the drivers trained to assist.

While it appears there’s no limit to the distance it will go if you’re willing to pay, the Rainbow Rider considers its service area to be southern Todd County and the cities of Osakis, Long Prairie, Browerville and Clarissa. It doesn’t travel to the city of Staples.

Traveling too far limits the ability of the bus to serve other riders wanting a ride at the same time since the service is on a first call first ride basis. It operates between the hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

The Rainbow Rider also offers a volunteer driver program. These volunteers use their own cars to provide transportation anywhere. They’re reimbursed for mileage at the rate of $0.585 per mile. Add on a $9 administrative fee. If you need to go 120 miles, it’ll cost you $79.20.

Wadena’s Friendly Rider (1-888-773-5500) generally operates between the hours of 7:15 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, Saturdays – 10-2:00, Sundays – 8-noon.

It treks around the Wadena streets but ventures to Verndale, Menahga, Sebeka, Nimrod and Staples on a set schedule. Fees are: $1.25 one way for 0-2 miles, $2.50 for 2-9 miles and $3.75 for over 9 miles but it goes no further than Nimrod.

Folks at Todd County’s visioning session voiced a need for a regularly scheduled transit system. They know there isn’t a system that will get you from the northern part of the county, Staples, to the southern part. Time didn’t allow for discussion of what the specific needs are or how that might function. But with discussion and planning, the Friendly Rider and Rainbow Rider systems might move to accommodate the need for a scheduled system in the future.

The Rainbow Rider currently garages its buses outside Todd County but is planning to build a five-stall garage in Long Prairie’s industrial park. When the garage is finished this fall, the schedule might change. The Rainbow Rider Transit Board which governs the policies of the bus system meets the second Thursday of every month at 5:00 p.m. at the Rainbow Office in Lowry.

The Friendly Rider works in conjunction with the Wadena County Volunteer Driver Program. Contact the Wadena County commissioners to offer suggestions.

What are your thoughts as to the need for public transportation in Todd County?

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