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If the cold and snow of winter make you grumble about starting your car and driving around town, consider calling the Wheels & Meals Public Transit Service for a ride.
Plenty of other people in Kenmare do.
“The ‘Wheels’ part of Wheels & Meals is really growing,” said project director Linda Freeman. “I’m thrilled we’re busy!”
Any person of any age can ride the 2008 Chevrolet Uplander van, the vehicle used most often for rides around Kenmare, for the low cost of $1.50. And that includes as many stops as the rider needs to make.
“The difference between us and a fixed route is that we are a dial-a-ride service,” explained Freeman. “You call and make reservations for the van. We prefer you do that the day before you need the service.”
Wheels & Meals offers public transit service every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 9 am until 4 pm, and on Tuesdays and Fridays between 9 am and 2 pm. No public transit is available on Saturdays, but Sunday service is offered from 8 am until 12 noon during the months from October through April.
The regular driver for the service is Stephanie Burtch, with Michelle Freeman, Pastor Doug West and Linda Freeman substituting as necessary.
Rides can be scheduled by calling 385-4364 any time of the day or night. Callers can even leave messages for rides with their name, physical address, pickup time and phone number before 9 am, and Freeman will add those individuals to the day’s schedule. “We usually have about six messages every morning when I come in,” she said, laughing.
For years, local residents have been accustomed to seeing the 14-passenger bus also used by Wheels & Meals, with a lift for handicapped accessibility. The new white van seats four people, maneuvers the city’s streets and parking areas more easily, and provides a ramp for accessibility, which Freeman said is convenient for the rider and driver alike.
According to Freeman, riders should understand they could be sharing the van’s schedule with other people on any given day. “We have a 10-minute window either way around their pick-up time,” she said. “And it’s not a taxi-service. They may have to wait somewhere while picking up someone else, and they may have to ride a little while before they get to their destination. We do prioritize appointments.”
Riders who need to make purchases are welcome to have the van stop at the grocery stores or other businesses. “We don’t ask our drivers to haul groceries,” said Freeman. “Riders are welcome to carry their groceries on the van, or have the stores deliver them to their homes.”
Service animals are permitted in the van, as well as children and strollers, although parents are asked to provide car seats as needed and to assist in attaching them securely. Kenmare Wheels & Meals does not interfere with the school district’s bus schedule or student transportation, but the van has been called into use by the school in certain situations because of the accessibility ramp.
Drivers can assist riders in and out of the van, but generally do not escort individuals to their doors or enter their homes to help them out to the van. Riders who use wheelchairs are encouraged to ask another friend or relative to join them on the van for support if necessary.
“There is no holiday service,” Freeman added. “When Wheels & Meals is closed, then transit is closed, but that’s just six holidays each year.”
Riders are asked to provide correct change if possible, and tickets for up to 20 rides can be purchased from Wheels & Meals. The driver keeps those tickets and records the rides used.
“The cost is very reasonable,” said Freeman. “Most transit service in the state of
The Wheels & Meals transit service operates within the Kenmare community. Individuals who need transportation to
Work transit available
In addition to providing transportation during the posted hours, Wheels & Meals also offers work transit outside of the regular service hours, also at the cost of $1.50 per round trip. Rides to and from work, even on weekends, can be arranged by calling 385-4364.
Freeman is excited about the work transit program, now used on a regular basis by four individuals in town. In fact, the purchase of the van was funded in part by a federal Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) grant channeled through the North Dakota Department of Transportation, with a percentage of local matching funds required. Freeman intends to apply for the JARC funds again, which are also used to pay the drivers for their time beyond the regular service hours.
“They’re on an on-call schedule,” Freeman said about the drivers, “and they have to reschedule their lives to allow that service to happen. That service is growing, but riders who want to use it must give us some kind of schedule ahead to time to make arrangements for the drivers.”
Kenmare’s program is unique
for small communities
Freeman takes pride in the opportunity to offer public transit service in Kenmare. “I am sure no other community of this size in
In fact, the “Wheels” portion of Wheels & Meals started first in Kenmare, beginning in 1973. Board members Alma Carstens, Gayle Herman, Ada Nielsen and Pastor Donald Burton obtained federal funding for local public transportation. “They added the meals program later and then expanded to other counties,” said Freeman.
The transit service was popular enough that the board raised money locally, including a donation from Kenmare Veterans Club, Inc., to purchase the bus. Freeman was working as the bookkeeper for Wheels & Meals at the time. “We ran the transit system for three years with no federal or state dollars,” she said. “Then the North Dakota Department of Transportation called us and asked why we weren’t using any of their transit money. They said, ‘We’ll fund you.’”
She praised the NDDOT and the Transit Services division for their encouragement and support through the years, with the federal and state money that helps fund Kenmare’s transit program now channeled through the Souris Basin Transportation organization for Kenmare’s use. Freeman herself has served six years on the board of directors for the Dakota Transportation Association, covering public transit programs in
Kenmare’s transit program is also recognized across the country, as Freeman represents the state at national conferences. “There’s a face there for the community,” she said, adding that Kenmare gets remembered when funding deadlines approach. The $1.50 round-trip ride fee helps defray costs, but the majority of the expenses are covered by other programs.
Everyone welcome to ride
Currently, about 55 percent of the transit riders in Kenmare are senior citizens. “There are people under 60 who are using the service, and they use it a lot,” said Freeman. “Most days, the driver is busy until about 2 or 3 pm. There’s less use in the afternoons than in the morning, but it really varies from day to day.”
She has noticed an increase in ridership during the winter months, which she expected, but the number of riders in general has risen as people become more familiar with the benefits of the service.
Anyone with further questions about public transit service in Kenmare, or who would like to schedule a ride, is welcome to contact Freeman at 385-4364.
“The more riders we have, the better it is for us. For us, those numbers are what the state looks at [for funding],” she said. “Our biggest challenge has always been to get people to understand it’s a general public service.”