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home : news : news February 5, 2016

Local bus service appreciated

by Connie Bickman

Do you need a ride to work - to a medical or dental appointment; for banking and other business; to social activities, day care center or preschool; after-school activities; dining; or just plain shopping? Ride the bus.

Hiawathaland Transit, which has been providing bus service in the area since 1999, is indeed a much appreciated resource in the community. It's the closest thing to hailing a taxi as you'll find in Cannon Falls.

Offered through Three Rivers Community Action, Inc., Hiawathaland Transit currently operates public transportation in Goodhue and Wabasha counties, which include the communities of Cannon Falls and Randolph. Individuals of all ages can ride the transit bus for any reason - to places like the grocery store, pharmacy, hair salon, the library, and it is also accessible for children to attend school or summer activities.

The bus service is available in the City of Cannon Falls and Randolph, and in Cannon Falls, Leon, Stanton Townships, and a limited area of Randolph Township.

With up to 80 people a day riding the transit bus, drivers David Johnson, Paul Hunsaid and Kevin Otterness can average between 100 to 160 miles a day, and it's been reported that they have transported people as far out as County Roads 9 and 1.

Johnson has been driving the bus since 2002. He retired from the Cannon Falls school district in 2001, after 31 years teaching music.

"The bus is usually at capacity in the morning," Johnson said, which is 18 people, or 16 and two wheelchairs. "That's when we transport students in open enrollment from Cannon Falls to Randolph." He also noted that they transport preschool kids to and from the elementary school during the week.

When asked how he liked driving the bus, Johnson quickly answered, "I love it. I have a smile on my face all the time. It's the best retirement job I could ever ask for. And I have also learned that when I am no longer able to drive, I won't live in a community that doesn't have a bus. It's so important. I don't know how we ever got along without it before."

Hiawathaland Transit ensures that all drivers have thorough criminal and driving background checks, have a Class A or B driver's license, First Aid/CPR certification, and defensive driving and passenger assistance training. If a driver needs a break for any reason, screened drivers from surrounding area are called on to fill in.

Buses have two wheelchair positions and drivers are trained to operate wheelchair lifts and devices. Drivers are not required to assist passengers into businesses and homes; however, they do make allowances for passenger aides. If a passenger requires the assistance of an aide, Hiawathaland Transit will let the aide ride for free.

Sophie Canelake, 86, says she has been riding the bus off and on for the past nine years.

"They automatically pick me up on Fridays and drop me in town so I can get my hair done at Family Salon," she said sitting in the salon while her freshly manicured nails were drying. "I also take the bus to medical appointments." She added, "It was one of the hardest things for me, when I wasn't able to drive any longer. This is such a vital necessity in our community."

Amy Repinski from Three Rivers Community Action stated, "Even with the rising costs of gas, insurance, maintenance, wages, etc., we feel we are still providing an affordable option for everyone, at only $1.75 per ride. Our future goal is to connect service in between communities with bus routes, providing rides from city to city."

"We wish more people would take advantage of this service," Johnson stated. "It's not just for seniors, it's for anyone who needs a ride."

Dial-a-Ride (curb-to-curb) bus service is $1.75 one way. Drivers do, however, request correct change when boarding the bus because they are not supposed to make change. Punch passes and tokens can be purchased at city hall for $17.50 for 11, which includes one free ride.

To schedule a ride in the Cannon Falls area Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., call Hiawathaland Transit at 1-866-623-7505. It is recommended to call 24 hours in advance to arrange for service. Individuals needing wheelchair accommodations should indicate this to the dispatcher when scheduling his/her trip.

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