What is Trailblazer Transit?
Trailblazer Transit is a general public transportation system that primarily serves Sibley, McLeod, and Wright Counties in addition to some select geographical corridors into neighboring counties. A Dial-A-Ride bus service and a separate volunteer driver program both operate under the Trailblazer Transit name. Up to 29 elevator-equipped buses driven by paid, professional drivers currently serve the three counties. In addition, there are numerous unpaid volunteers who use their own vehicles to support the buses while they are in operation.
What is Dial-A-Ride Service?
Dial-A-Ride bus service is a unique service that differs from conventional public transit bus routes in that customers speak with a dispatcher to schedule the pickup and drop-off locations and the times for transportation. In this sense, Dial-A-Ride service is similar to taxi service. However, there are some distinct differences between the two services. Unlike traditional taxi fares, Dial-A-Ride bus fares are fixed and determined in advance. In addition, taxi service is exclusive to one customer or group at a time, whereas Trailblazer Transit bus riders should expect to share the bus with other customers being transported. Furthermore, Dial-A-Ride customers are encouraged to schedule their rides at least 24 hours in advance, unlike a taxi service that is generally designed for more immediate ride requests.
Who Can Use Trailblazer and for What Purpose?
Trailblazer Transit is designed to serve the general public, meaning that almost anyone can use both the bus system and the volunteer driver program for almost any reason. There are no qualifications or requirements to access Trailblazer Transit services, but there are some operating policies that may restrict use. Children, youth, adults, and seniors alike use Trailblazer Transit to get to work, school, day care, recreational activities, and social events. Some common destinations include medical facilities, restaurants, banks, drug and grocery stores, beauty salons, barbers, and government offices. However, Trailblazer Transit does not provide transportation for medical emergencies.
When Does Trailblazer Operate?
The buses and volunteer drivers operate Monday through Friday from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Office hours are Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Trailblazer Transit is closed on the six major holidays including New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and December 25th.
How Do You Get a Ride?
Customers must schedule all rides with a dispatcher. There are two dispatcher centers, both of which can handle calls from anywhere in the service area. The local number for the Glencoe dispatch center is 320-864-1000 and the toll-free number is 1-888-743-3828. The local number for the Buffalo dispatch center is 763-682-1600 and the toll-free number is 1-844-743-3828.
A dispatcher will ask the customer or caretaker a series of questions to facilitate the scheduling process. Regular bus rides may be scheduled up to one week in advance and standing orders can be scheduled up to two weeks in advance. Volunteer driver rides may be scheduled up to one month in advance. Same day ride requests may be accommodated, but it is best to make reservations at least 24 hours in advance or as early as possible. It is recommended that volunteer driver rides be scheduled one week in advance, or five business days.
How Much Does It Cost and How Do You Pay?
The bus fares listed below are for one ride from Point A to Point B for one individual. Please see the Fare Structure Handout for a more detailed explanation and a list of special promotions. Bus fares may be paid when boarding the bus with cash, checks, or tokens, or the bus fares may be billed to the customer, caretaker, or an authorized third party.
Rides less than 25 miles $4.00
Rides 25 miles or more $8.00
Discount for Intracity Rides $2.00
The charge for a volunteer driver is based on round-trip mileage from the volunteer’s home or starting point. The cost is 53.5 cents per mile plus any applicable parking expenses and meal reimbursements which may not exceed $10.00 per meal for every four hours the volunteer is driving or waiting for the customer. Unlike the bus system, the fares for volunteer drivers are divided by the total number of people that ride together on each trip. Since all volunteer driver rides are billed, customers only need to carry enough money to pay for their own meal expenses, should the volunteer need to stop and eat.
History of Trailblazer
Trailblazer Transit is the culmination of an extensive effort by numerous federal, state, and local government agencies to develop and expand public transportation in multiple counties over several decades. This was accomplished in large part by coordinating and consolidating many different types of transportation programs, some of which date back to the 1970s.
The organization that operates Trailblazer Transit started in June 1999 when Sibley County and McLeod County formed a new government entity called a joint powers board to govern a multi-county public transit system. Four previously-existing transportation systems were merged together and served as the foundation of the initial service design. These systems included 1) Trailblazer Community Transit in Sibley County, 2) the adult day care transportation program from Glencoe Regional Health Services, 3) City of Hutchinson Heartland Express (otherwise known as Hutchmobile), and 4) the volunteer driver program from McLeod Social Service Center. The process to transition all the services into the public transit system with one name and one set of operating policies took years to complete.
Although the public transportation service is marketed under the name Trailblazer Transit, the organization that operates the program is legally named Trailblazer Joint Powers Board, which is an independent government entity subsidized by federal, state, and local government dollars including funding from participating counties and cities. Trailblazer Joint Powers Board has contractual ties with the Minnesota Department of Transportation Office of Transit which administers the federal and state funding through the 5311 Public Transportation Participation Program.
The Trailblazer Joint Powers Board has expanded since its inception in 1999 as a working partnership between Sibley County and McLeod County. In December 2013, MnDOT strongly encouraged Trailblazer Transit to incorporate Wright County into its service design due to the pending dissolution of RiverRider, which was another public transit system operated by a different joint powers partnership between Wright County and Sherburne County. Although Trailblazer Transit had been operating in limited parts of Wright County for many years, Trailblazer Transit’s service area was officially expanded to include all of Wright County starting in July 2014 with the hope of later adding a Wright County partner to the Trailblazer Joint Powers Board in the near future.
Although negotiations with the Wright County government to join the Sibley County and McLeod County transit partnership were unsuccessful, an agreement was reached with Wright County Area Transportation Joint Powers Board (WCAT) to become part of the Trailblazer Joint Powers Board starting in January 2015. WCAT was originally a coalition of 12 cities in Wright County that formed a joint powers board of its own because Sibley County and McLeod County desired to partner with only one entity from Wright County. The original WCAT membership included the following cities: Albertville, Annandale, Buffalo, Cokato, Delano, Hanover, Howard Lake, Maple Lake, Montrose, Rockford, St. Michael, and Waverly. Four cities in Wright County did not originally participate in WCAT including Clearwater, Monticello, Otsego, and South Haven. Although these cities decided not to join WCAT initially, the Trailblazer Joint Powers Board still elected to provide intercity transit service for these non-participating cities. The Trailblazer Joint Powers Board also allowed residents living in the Wright County townships to be transported to or from any city participating in WCAT.
In July 2016, the Cities of Monticello and Otsego formally joined WCAT and became eligible for intracity service in September 2016. As of July 2017, WCAT formally initiated discussions with the Wright County government to join WCAT and to participate in the local funding of the transit system in exchange for various considerations including expanding the service area into counties bordering Wright County. The groundwork has been completed for Wright County to join WCAT in January 2018.
The Trailblazer Joint Powers Board is governed by a board of seven elected officials representing the three member entities in the transit partnership including Sibley County, McLeod County, and Wright County Area Transportation Joint Powers Board (WCAT). Sibley County appoints two representatives to serve on the board, McLeod County appoints three representatives, and WCAT appoints two representatives. Each member entity appoints its representatives in January of each year. It is important to note that the Trailblazer Joint Powers Board is affiliated with Sibley County, McLeod County, and 14 cities in Wright County, but Trailblazer Joint Powers Board is a self-governing entity that operates independently of the counties and the cities.
The role of an individual board member is to work cooperatively with other board members during public meetings with the goal of providing direction and authority to the Executive Director to carry out the mission of the organization, which is to provide as many rides as safely and efficiently as possible. A board member is not involved in daily operations or specific human resource matters.
As a whole, the role of the full Trailblazer Board is to 1) approve the service levels and annual budget, 2) establish high-level policy, and 3) make global decisions pertaining to the general direction of the organization. The elected officers on the Board include the Chairperson, Vice-chairperson, and the Recorder. The Chairperson maintains the responsibility to schedule and lead the board meetings. The Vice-chairperson is authorized to act on behalf of the Chairperson in the event the Chairperson is unable to carry out the responsibilities of the position. The Recorder is authorized to sign important documents in the event the Chairperson or Vice-chairperson is unable to do so.
The Executive Director is the highest-ranking individual in the organization and is subject to the authority of the full board as determined by majority vote during an open meeting. The Executive Director is responsible for the overall management of the transit system and establishes the operational policies and procedures necessary to accomplish the transit system’s mission.
The management team is rounded out by an Executive Assistant, two Operations Managers, and a Human Resource and Compliance employee. The Executive Assistant is responsible for the financial functions of the organization and carries out the duties of the Executive Director when necessary. The Operations Managers directly supervise the staff and are responsible for the quality control of daily operations. Although not a manager, the Human Resource and Compliance employee works closely with management regarding any personnel issues and is an advocate for the employees. The responsibilities for this position include assisting managers with hiring and discipline, administering employee benefits, drug and alcohol testing, and making sure the organization is in compliance with a wide range of regulations.
The Lead Dispatchers help train and closely monitor the dispatchers to ensure quality control and to assist with coverage whenever needed. The Lead Drivers are employed as a resource to help train and monitor the performance of drivers, as well as to advocate for the best interests of the drivers. Transit Dispatchers control and direct the resources of the organization, particularly drivers and vehicles. Transit Drivers are the most visible employees, not only providing the critical role of transporting people, but also providing the customer service necessary to ensure the satisfaction of our customers.
There are also a number of specialized positions such as Facility Maintenance Supervisor, Fleet Maintenance Supervisor, Facility Support, Fleet Support, Fiscal Support, and Office Support. The titles of these positions are self-explanatory and are representative of the work performed by each employee.
Trailblazer Joint Powers Board Organizational Structure