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Rainbow Rider provides 142,000 rides per year

Echo Press photo by Lowell Anderson A Rainbow Rider bus stopped at Target this week, one of 11 stops in its fixed/deviated route schedule in Alexandria, offered Monday through Friday. Passengers can make an unlimited number of stops on the route for $1.

Rainbow Rider: More and more people aren't leaving home without it.

Harold Jennissen, director of the Rainbow Rider public transit system, provided the Alexandria City Council with an update on the service's operations at a meeting Monday night.

Rainbow Rider buses serve residents in Douglas, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and southern Todd counties. It is available to everyone. There are no income or age restrictions or forms to fill out.

The service is funded by passenger fares, service contracts, state and federal taxes, sales of advertising space on the buses and donations.

The system has grown significantly from its humble beginnings in 1995, Jennissen said. Back then, it had just nine buses. Now it has 32.

Rainbow Rider provided about 142,000 rides last year in its five-county area and this year's numbers should equal that, Jennissen said.

About 13,000 of the rides were provided to people in wheelchairs or scooters. The buses are handicapped accessible.

In Douglas County alone, Rainbow Rider provided 80,000 bus rides and between 50,000 and 60,000 of them were in the city limits.

"I know that Rainbow Rider transports a lot of people who would not go out if not [for them]," said council member Dave Benson while Jennissen was giving his report.

Ten to 12 buses are rolling around in Douglas County Monday through Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 7:45 p.m. and another bus offers Saturday service in Alexandria from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The fares are intended to be reasonable: $2 for rides of up to 5 miles; $4 for rides of 5.1 to 10 miles; $5 for rides of 10.1 to 20 miles and $2 additional for every 10 miles after that. Children aged 3 to 11 pay half fare when traveling with an adult.

As much as the service has grown, there is still plenty of room on the buses, according to Jennissen. He noted that Rainbow Rider recently started a fixed/deviated route in Alexandria and its ridership, while picking up, is still slow.

He added that some people may not know the service exists.

Here's how it works:

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday, Rainbow Rider will stop at various locations in Alexandria. Passengers can get on or off the bus an unlimited number of times at any of the stops for $1.

A bus will arrive at the following times and locations: Walmart at 11 a.m., Target at 11:04 a.m., Alexandria Clinic at 11:09 a.m., Viking Plaza at 11:12 a.m., Kmart at 11:17 a.m., Pete's County Market at 11:20 a.m., Alexandria Technical College at 11:23 a.m., Broadway Clinic at 11:26 a.m., Stop-n-Go at 11:29 a.m., Bethel I at 11:31 a.m. and Viking Towers at 11:34 a.m.

The route will repeat itself every hour. The last run will be at 3 p.m.

Although the service is based in Lowry, Rainbow Rider plans to begin housing at least some buses in Alexandria next year, Jennissen said.

Some other facts Jennissen mentioned in his report or provided in his hand-out materials include:

•Rainbow Rider has 37 employees and 30 drivers, most of them full-time.

•All drivers are professionals with training in defensive driving, CPR, first aid and passenger assistance. Drivers are subject to background checks and motor vehicle record checks.

•Rainbow Rider also oversees a volunteer driver program in the four-county area. Drivers use their own vehicles to pick up and transport riders.

•Rainbow Rider offers door-to-door service with extra care given to children and senior citizens. Drivers will assist passengers with a steadying arm between the bus and the exterior door of their pick-up or drop-off locations. Drivers will also carry up to three small packages.

•Tickets are available at face value for $2. Punch cards containing 50 50-cent punches are available for $22.50, which means Rainbow Rider provides five free punches. The punch cards may be purchased at Elden's Food Fair in Alexandria, the Rainbow Rider office in Lowry, Alexandria Technical College's DECA store, Pete's County Market in Alexandria, Tom's Food Pride in Glenwood and Coborn's Grocery in Long Prairie.

•Rainbow Rider suggests that passengers call two days in advance to reserve a ride from their home. Dispatchers can reach bus drivers via two-way radios and cell phones when plans change at the last minute but advance notice assures that rides will be included in the schedule.

•For more information or to arrange a ride, call 1-800-450-7770 or visit the website