After Mosaic decided not to renew the contract for the Forest City and Winnebago County bus transits, the transit system has been looking for ways to continue the service.
The bus transit for the county is a part of the Region 2 Transit system, which serves an eight-county area of Cerro Gordo, Floyd, Franklin, Hancock, Kossuth, Mitchell, Winnebago and Worth counties and is governed by the North Iowa Area Council of Governments.
Though NIACOG oversees all the transits in the region, because the region is so large, some county transits are run by NIACOG, like in Kossuth and Cerro Gordo counties, and other county transits are run by a local organization, such as One Vision in Hancock County, the Public Health Department in Worth County and, until recently, Mosaic in Winnebago County.
With Mosaic canceling its contract with the Forest City and Winnebago County bus transits this year, though, the two need to quickly find a way to continue the system, whether through having the City of Forest City support and run it, finding another contract provider such as One Vision in Clear Lake or having NIACOG take over and run the service, as the contract ends June 30.
Usually, the Winnebago County transit runs two or three buses daily and makes about 500 trips a month, covering about 7,200 miles, according to transit administrator Kevin Kramer.
Recently, though, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and most people staying inside, the transits have seen a drop in rides with 250 rides in the city bus and 51 in the county transit in April, according to Tami Nelson, the transportation manager for Mosaic.
The system is similar to a taxi system, in that people can call in and ask for a ride to anywhere in the eight-county region, including Mason City, but it’s a shared ride, so the bus driver tries to get as many people worked into the schedule as possible to do as few trips as possible, Kramer said.
Additionally, there are standing appointments for the bus to go to places like Mercy Medical Center, North Iowa Vocational Center and Salvation Army.
In its May 4 meeting, the Forest City Council decided to hire its own bus driver for the city with the understanding that NIACOG will take over the county transit and furnish the city with a small bus.
“We don’t want to jump in not knowing what’s going on,” city administrator Barb Smith said. “We’re going to let NIACOG take over the county, and we’re just going to take over the city bus like the other cities do.”
Last year, about 1,000 tickets were sold for the local transit, according to Smith, and currently, the city is charging $10 for a book of 10 local transit bus tickets and $30 for a book of 10 regional transit bus tickets, which can be purchased at City Hall; people can also pay for the rides through cash or check.
By hiring its own bus driver, the City will be paying for a full-time, $14-an-hour bus driver, but will split all other expenses, such as gasoline, with NIACOG, Smith said.
“NIACOG pays all of the expenses, and then at the end of the month, what we sold for transit tickets we report to them, that’s taken out of the expenses, and then it’s split down the middle – the city pays half and NIACOG pays half,” she said.
The city council said they want to try to hire the bus drivers who already drive the Forest City transit for Mosaic, since the lost contract will leave five drivers, including Nelson, without a job.
To keep the Winnebago transit going, Kramer tried to have the City of Forest City take over the county transit as well, but since the council decided to just do the city transit and leave the county transit to NIACOG, he said he’s looking for other local organizations to run it, including One Vision.
“OneVision is doing the City of Clear Lake, they are doing Hancock County, and so with what the ridership is, that seemed like a good fit since they’re already established and have a dispatch center in place, have drivers, that’d be a good fit,” he said.
If One Vision decides not to take up the county transit, Kramer said he’ll continue to look for a willing participant with NIACOG as the last resort and temporary provider.
“We’ve run in these situations,” he said. “NIACOG personnel would take care of that service until we could get something in place. At any rate, there’s not going to be any gap in service. Come July 1, somebody’s gonna be doing it.”
Grace Zaplatynsky can be reached at 641-421-0534.
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