Public transportation in Le Sueur and St. Peter is expected to be more convenient this year with the implementation of software allowing customers pre-purchase rides and a new bus.
On Jan. 15, the Minnesota River Valley Transit Joint Powers Board held its first meeting of the year to discuss the state of the joint transportation service and the board’s goals in the upcoming months. One of those goals is to complete the rollout of new software the MRVT began working on back in 2019.
The first of these software modules is the dispatch program known as Routematch, which allows users to reserve rides in advance on their mobile device. Routematch also allows users to coordinate with the neighboring TRUE Transit and Brown County Transit system, view bus schedules and track buses in real time. The program was launched in 2019, but has since seen a series of updates, with the final one expected in the next seven to 30 days.
“We launched this software in partnership with TRUE Transit and Brown County Transit so we are all working on this together,” said St. Peter City Administrator and MRVT Board Member Todd Prafke. “That however does cause additional work, because TRUE, MRVT and Brown County do not all operate the same way and we do not all have the same schedules. So there are some things going on in relation to those and identification of unique riders.”
Once the dispatch software is completed, the MRVT will begin working on software to allow users to deposit funds into an account with their cell phone and debit the account for rides. The software will also allow multiple users to deposit into the same account.
“There are a lot of people asking about it,” said MRVT Compliance Manager William Albers. “I’m looking forward to it because it will cut down on the time it takes drivers to process their purchases when they get on. It will be much easier.”
A timeline for when the software will become accessible to the public has yet to be set, but Prafke hopes that it will be implemented in the first quarter of the year.
Going into February, MRVT is expecting the launch of a new bus it ordered in 2019. The vehicle was one of two buses the MRVT ordered after receiving a one-time 90% subsidy to operations from the state Office of Transit, an increase from the typical 80%. Each bus cost around $80,000 each and because of the subsidy, the MRVT paid 10% the cost, half of what they would pay in a normal year.
Part of that $80,000 goes into outfitting the bus with equipment, including a video recording system. The MRVT recently received the base bus, and it is expected to be fully outfitted and out on the road in the tail-end of February.
The MRVT has also reported that rides were up after a dip in 2018. In 2019, the service saw a total of 77,068 rides, 2,074 more than in 2018. That number is still 1,600 less than the number of rides the MRVT gave in 2017.
One of the driving factors behind the change was use of the Gus Bus. Gustavus students make up about a third of the services. In 2017, the Gus Bus gave 25,000 rides, compared to a lesser 20,755 rides in 2018 and then an increase back up to 23,019 rides in 2019.
“Our variability is really driven by those Gus Bus rides,” said Prafke. “Our non-Gustavus rides have been pretty steady.”
Why usage of the bus dipped in 2018 isn’t certain, but Prafke stated that the MRVT gives so many rides a day, that the disparity could be caused by a decline in usage just over a few weeks.