Successful Model for Rural and Underserved Communities
Tri-Valley Opportunity Council
Geographic Area: Rural five-county area in northwestern Minnesota
Description: In 2002, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council assumed responsibility for coordinating a public transportation and volunteer driver system to serve a sparsely populated, very rural five-county area covering 6,500 miles in northwest Minnesota.
Tri-Valley, which had provided transportation for human service needs since 1975, was one of several area agencies involved in public transportation. Funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services was used to develop a Rural Transit Collaborative that put all agencies’ vehicles under one coordination practice. Tri-Valley has increased usage, eliminated duplicative services and is operating in the black. Rider fees average out to about 10 cents per mile, but subsidized state and federal funding programs cover the bulk of actual expenses.
The system is available to anyone who wishes to use it, regardless of income level. Users can call a central number to schedule a ride, and can also access buses that follow a published schedule of stops throughout the five-county area. Volunteers, driving their own vehicles, fill in the gaps to provide rides unavailable through the scheduled bus system. This resulted in increased ridership and decreased costs.
The transit system allows people to remain in their home community and still get services. Having volunteer drivers helps people get to medical appointments and other services that are only available in some bigger cities.
Tri-Valley’s volunteer drivers receive mileage expenses, but no pay. They must meet certain standards, including a background check and successful completion of an educational program. Tri-Valley carries extra insurance coverage on them.
In 2005, Tri-Valley’s buses and volunteer drivers provided 70,514 rides, with 33 percent of riders being older adults, 53 percent adults, and 14 percent students and young adults.
Tri-Valley keeps their passenger pool open to anyone who wishes to ride. Some federal funding programs require ridership to be unrestricted and this also makes good business sense. However, systems that coordinate across city or county lines, like Tri-Valley, are still in the minority.
Collaborative partners: Since 2002, the collaboration of Social Services of Polk, Norman, Pennington and Red Lake Counties and Tri-Valley Opportunity Council has expanded to include other counties, RSVP and insurance companies and health organizations.
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