Frequently Asked Questions
- What is Trailblazer?
- Who can use Trailblazer and for what purpose?
- When does Trailblazer operate?
- Where can you go?
- Where do you find information about bus routes?
- How do you get a ride?
- What information should I know before calling to schedule a ride?
- How can you schedule a ride home from the doctor when you don’t know when you’ll be done?
- How much notice do I need to schedule a ride?
- What if I want to schedule a bus ride for more than one week in advance?
- Do you need to call each time you need a ride? What is a standing order?
- What if I am having trouble getting a ride scheduled on the bus?
- How much does it cost for a ride?
- How do you pay for your ride?
- What is a token?
- What if you no longer need the bus ride you scheduled?
- What is the pickup window?
- Why are you sometimes not able to ride when there are open seats on the buses?
- Why does it seem that the buses are always empty?
- When can I typically expect the bus to be available for me to ride the bus?
- I have a car and can get around on my own. Why should I care about transit?
- What type of license do you need to drive?
- What am I allowed to bring on the bus?
- How much help do you provide to the customers?
- Who owns Trailblazer?
Trailblazer Transit is a general public transportation system consisting of a bus system and a volunteer driver program. Professional drivers employed by the Trailblazer Joint Powers Board utilize elevator-equipped buses to provide Dial-A-Ride service throughout Sibley, McLeod, and Wright Counties. Volunteer drivers use their own vehicles to support the buses and to transport people who need to travel outside the two counties.
Trailblazer provides general public transportation, which means that almost anyone can use the service for almost any reason. There are no qualifications or requirements to use the system. Children, adults, and seniors can all access the buses or volunteer drivers. Some common destinations include medical facilities, restaurants, banks, grocery stores, beauty salons, shopping centers, and government offices. People also use Trailblazer to get to work, school, day care, recreational activities, and social events.
The buses operate Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., excluding major holidays. Volunteer drivers may transport people anytime including early mornings, late evenings, weekends, and holidays. Office hours are Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
The transit system operates primarily within Sibley, McLeod, and Wright Counties. Within this contiguous area, Trailblazer Transit serves a total of 32 cities plus all of the rural areas. Trailblazer Transit also provides some public transit service outside these counties. The SMART-RIDE program may also provide transportation throughout the entire state. Contact a dispatcher for more details.
In short, Trailblazer does not operate any routes. Instead, Trailblazer operates a demand response (also called Dial-A-Ride) bus service, meaning that customers choose the locations where they get picked up and dropped off. Although there are many customers with consistent pickup times that make it appear as though there are routes, dispatchers are responsible for scheduling the buses in the most efficient manner. Therefore, the bus schedules are subject to change at any time depending on the ride requests that we receive. Based on our experience, we believe that routes are less efficient in our service area and do not meet the needs of our customers nearly as well as Dial-A-Ride service. If you ever want to know where the buses are typically going and when, just call a dispatcher and ask. It’s that easy.
All customers need to contact a dispatcher to ride the bus system or to use a volunteer driver. Sibley County and McLeod County customers should call the Glencoe office at 1-888-743-3828 and Wright County customers should call the Buffalo office at 1-844-743-3828. Both of these numbers are toll-free. If you ever call the wrong office, don’t worry. The dispatchers from both offices can help any of the customers in our service area regardless of where they live or where they are going.
Once your ride is scheduled, the driver will arrive at your specified pickup location at the agreed upon time and take you to your scheduled destination. You should be ready to board the bus or the volunteer driver’s vehicle 10 minutes prior to your scheduled pickup time.
There are some fundamental things a dispatcher needs to know to schedule each and every ride. Such information includes: date of travel, number of people going, pickup location, desired pickup time, destination, appointment time (if any), and method of payment. If the ride is billed, the dispatcher needs to know where to send the bill. If the bill is being sent to a third party, the dispatcher will need authorization from the third party prior to scheduling the ride.
Keep in mind that you may need to schedule multiple rides when you go somewhere if you plan on using Trailblazer get you back home again. Whenever you are using the transit system to travel only in one direction, this is called a one-way ride. If you are going out somewhere and back again, this is referred to as a round-trip. If you make three or more stops while you are out, this is called a trip with multiple legs. It is important to tell a dispatcher what your intentions are so that all the rides you will be needing for a specific outing are scheduled in advance.
Customers should find out from the medical facility how long the appointment is expected to last. When scheduling your return ride, we suggest making your pickup time at least one hour later than when you think your appointment will be done. This practice creates a buffer of time to compensate for unexpected delays. If you get finished with your medical appointment early, you are welcome to call Trailblazer to see if a bus is able to pick you up any sooner.
Also, it is important for you to communicate with your medical professionals that you are expecting Trailblazer to pick you up after your appointment. There may be things the medical provider can do to make certain you are able to catch the bus at the time you already have scheduled. If you are ever concerned that your appointment is taking longer than anticipated and you may not be finished in time for your scheduled ride home, you should ask the medical facility to contact Trailblazer and let us know.
Normal bus rides may be scheduled up to one week in advance, and volunteer drivers may be requested up to one month in advance. Standing orders may be scheduled up to two weeks in advance. Same day ride requests may be accommodated, but it is best to make reservations for the bus at least 24 hours in advance or as early as possible. It is recommended that volunteer driver rides be scheduled at least one week in advance, or five business days. Customers are welcome to ask dispatchers what patterns typically develop during certain times of the year. However, rides cannot be scheduled beyond the parameters that have bene established.
Customers should be aware that the ability to schedule a ride is subject to working around other rides that have already been scheduled. Although there are times of the day, days of the week, or months of the year when scheduling a ride may be more difficult due to increased demand, please do not be discouraged from calling to find out what may be available. Also, customers are encouraged to call several times to see if any new options exist. Schedules change frequently, which may create different opportunities to schedule rides, especially on the same day. Dispatchers always welcome your calls.
The large volume of calls and vast amount of information to be processed place limitations on our scheduling system that prevent us from scheduling normal bus rides more than seven days in advance and standing orders up to two weeks in advance. Although it would be possible to track ride requests farther out, dispatchers would not be able to schedule the rides or determine if Trailblazer even has the resources to provide the rides until one week in advance. Therefore, it is much easier for the customers and more efficient for the dispatchers to schedule rides up to one week in advance.
To better meet the needs of customers with consistent ride requests, it is possible to create a standing order. Also, it is possible for groups or organizations to create a service contract with Trailblazer, which can just about guarantee the times when service will be available. Please call the office for more details.
Customers have the option to create standing orders at no extra cost. Standing orders are consistent ride requests for the same times on a specific day of the week. For example, your pickup times for every Monday must be the same to qualify as a standing order. However, the pickup times for a Tuesday standing order can be different from the Monday standing order as long as all Tuesdays are the same from week to week. Standing orders are considered to be ride requests made seven days in advance and are subject to all the parameters that normal ride requests are subject to. Therefore, your specific pickup times may be changed on occasion. However, Trailblazer will contact you to work out times that work with your schedule if there is ever a conflict that prevents us from picking you up within the pickup window that we agree upon. Standing orders are almost never changed, but Trailblazer needs the flexibility to change things around if absolutely necessary to accommodate more riders.
Also, customers who have a contract with Trailblazer may not need to call a dispatcher to schedule rides if the contract specifies the days and times the bus will arrive at the pickup location. Some contracts may still require customers to call and schedule a ride if times or locations vary from time to time.
Trailblazer’s goal is to provide as many rides as safely and efficiently as possible. Unfortunately, there are simply too many communities and too much geography for us to accommodate all the ride requests with the number of buses we have available for service. However, we have some suggestions for you to help improve your chances of getting the bus when you need it. Click here for tips on how to use the transit system. If the bus service is unable to meet your needs, the volunteer driver program is designed to support the buses while they are in operation and may be a reasonable option for you to get to where you need to go.
Bus rides cost $4.00 or $8.00 depending on how far you want to go and where the ride takes place. There is a discount rate of $2.00 in your pickup and destination are both in the same city. The charge for a volunteer driver is based on round-trip mileage from the driver’s home or starting point. Within the Trailblazer 5311 Service Plan, the cost is 53.5 cents per mile plus parking expenses and meal reimbursements, which may not exceed $10.00 per meal for every four hours the driver volunteers. Click here for more detailed information on fares.
Bus fares can be paid when you board the bus, or Trailblazer can keep track of your rides and send you a bill every month. If you pay on the bus, you may pay with cash, check, or tokens. Be sure to have exact payment, as drivers are unable to make change. All volunteer driver rides are billed.
A token represents $2.00 and may be used to pay for bus fares only when customers board the bus. Tokens are non-refundable and may not be used to pay for any rides that have been billed.
Customers are required to contact a dispatcher at least one hour prior to the scheduled pickup time except for early morning pickup times, which must be cancelled before 6:30 a.m. the day of service. If the office is closed, customers may leave a message on the answering machine to cancel the ride, but Trailblazer does not accept responsibility for messages that are inaudible or improperly recorded.
Generally, the phrase is used to describe how much time before or after your scheduled pickup time that you can expect the bus to arrive to pick you up. The pickup window provides the transit system with some flexibility to schedule more passengers more efficiently. The bus is neither early nor late if it arrives within the pickup window.
Trailblazer buses operate on a plus or minus ten-minute pickup window, meaning that you should be ready to board the bus at least 10 minutes prior to your scheduled pickup time. Also, you should expect the bus to arrive no later than 10 minutes after your scheduled pickup time.
Customers are expected to board the bus immediately when the bus arrives. Unfortunately, the buses are unable to wait for people if the bus arrives within the pickup window. Due to the large number of riders, such a wait could cause delays for other passengers with scheduled rides. Therefore, please be ready to board when the bus arrives to pick you up. In addition, please do not call the office looking for a bus before the pickup window expires. This practice often causes delays and makes the bus run behind schedule for other passengers.
It is important to distinguish the difference between open seats on a bus and open space in a bus schedule. Every seat on the bus is not always filled, but it is common for the bus schedule to be full. The fact is that buses can only make a certain number of stops in any given hour. There comes a point when dispatchers simply cannot schedule any more rides without compromising the schedule for other passengers. Sometimes we just run out of time to pick up any more customers. Other times, the bus is not scheduled to be in service. The drivers could be training., moving buses, or returning to headquarters for the end of a work shift.
Whenever the schedule is full but there are open seats on the bus, customers are still welcome and encouraged to ride the bus. In this case, however, such riders are limited to getting picked up and dropped off at the locations that have already been scheduled.
It surprises some people to know that having empty buses is not always a bad thing. For example, imagine a large group of people getting picked up and dropped off all together at the same time. If the group needed every seat on the bus for this trip, please consider that the bus would be entirely empty before picking up the group and empty once again after the group is dropped off.
Also, please keep in mind that passengers are picked up and dropped off at customer-defined locations. Dispatchers take ride requests and schedule together as many people as possible heading in the same direction. As effective as dispatchers are at this practice, there are often times only a few people going in the same direction at a specific time. To get everyone where they need to go effectively, there are limits to how many people you can schedule on the bus at the same time without making the bus ride unacceptably inconvenient for the passengers.
The truth is that Dial-A-Ride buses are empty from time to time; this is the nature of the business. However, we try to avoid empty buses without compromising the quality of service. Please know that Trailblazer Transit utilizes a comprehensive statistical tracking system and numerous dispatching policies to ensure that the buses are used effectively and efficiently.
It depends. The best thing for you to do is to call a dispatcher and ask. Schedules are created based on demand and can change quickly depending on additions and cancellations. Also, what may not work on one day, week, or month may work just fine for you the next. In general, trying to identify in advance when a bus would be available for you compromises the effectiveness of a demand response service. Again, the best thing for you to do is to call and ask a dispatcher for help getting you to where you need to go. If you want some more advanced tips on how to get the ride times that you want, click here.
Just because you have a car now, doesn’t mean that you’ll always have a car available. Your car may break down or a family member may need to borrow it from you. In either of these cases, Trailblazer may be a good option for you on a temporary basis, whether it is a day, a week, or a month.
In addition, public transit systems can save taxpayers a lot of money by coordinating rides from other transportation providers that are often much more expensive than public transit. Furthermore, numerous studies have been completed over the years that universally conclude there is a high rate of return on a public transit investment. Not only do public transit systems improve the quality of life for so many people, they also have a very positive economic impact.
Bus drivers are paid employees and require a Minnesota Class C commercial driver’s license with passenger endorsement. Volunteer drivers using their own vehicles are required to maintain a minimum of a Minnesota Class D driver’s license.
Bus drivers are also required to pass a DOT physical, pre-employment drug test, driving record check, and criminal background check. Trailblazer also performs the driving record and criminal background checks on volunteer drivers.
Customers may bring wheelchairs, walkers, strollers, car seats, and bottled water on the bus. Handheld, portable oxygen tanks are also acceptable, as are grocery bags, shopping totes, and other small packages in limited quantities. Customers are expected to store any items brought on the bus beneath their seat or on the floor next to their feet. Loose items must be secured to the extent that they do not roll around on the bus, and nothing may be placed in the aisle or next to the elevator.
Standard oxygen tanks, animals, weapons, hazardous materials, bicycles, and other large objects are not permitted on the bus. Also, food and drink cannot be consumed on the bus, other than water in clear, plastic containers. If you have any questions about what you can bring on the bus, please contact a dispatcher.
Drivers may provide assistance to customers between the bus and the threshold of the outermost door or entryway for the purpose of providing support and stability.
Drivers are not permitted to go beyond the threshold of the outermost door or entryway, nor are the drivers allowed to lose sight of their bus. Therefore, drivers are unable to escort people to and from their rooms inside apartment complexes, nursing homes, and similar facilities.
For ambulatory passengers, drivers may assist by extending an arm for the passengers to hold onto or by grasping the arms of the passengers. Individuals who need additional assistance, such as someone who is extremely weak or frail, may be required to use a wheelchair.
The bus system and volunteer driver programs are operated by the Trailblazer Joint Powers Board, which is a government entity subsidized by state, federal, and local government dollars. Click here for more information on Trailblazer’s history and organizational structure.