Nancy Edmonds Hanson
MATBUS has kept rolling through the whole year of pandemic. Now, with immunization offering light at the end of the tunnel, the metro area’s transportation system is helping local residents reach that happy goal by continuing to offer free rides to and from vaccination sites.
The buses went fare-free in the very first days – eliminating potentially contagious contacts between riders and bus drivers. As of today, however, that policy has gone back to normal, with the regular $1.50 fares collected as passengers come aboard. Thirty-day passes are again available for $40, with certain riders qualifying for a $30 rate.
Moorhead transit manager Lori Van Beek says that traveling to and fro at no cost at no cost to get your shots is as easy as it can be. “Just tell the driver when you board that you’re going for your vaccination,” she says. Route 4 connects with both the Hjemkomst Center, where Clay County Public Health gives shots, and the Moorhead Center Mall, where Sanford and Essentia are conducting their own Covid vaccine operations.
The pandemic may not have disrupted service for the metropolitan system, but that doesn’t mean it presented no challenges. From the first day of restrictions designed to thwart the virus’ spread, the bus system launched a wide-ranging program to keep its staff and passengers safe: extra sanitizing with fogging machines, protective equipment for staff, hand-sanitizer dispensers on every bus, masks required for everyone, and encouragement of social distancing. More recently, sophisticated air filtration systems have been added to the vehicles. Permanent barriers have also replaced temporary Plexiglass protection around the drivers.
The number of fare-free rides is impressive. That means 428,055 free trips in Moorhead and Dilworth, and 1,172,502 throughout the entire area. The regular $3 Paratransit fee was also waived for 5,569 rides in Moorhead and Dilworth, and a total of 34,111 throughout the metro area.
The Minnesota Public Transit Association recently highlighted the MATBUS program in its statewide communications. Along with the exemplary service during the Covid pandemic, MPTA spotlighted its public service campaigns – assisting Meals on Wheels deliveries and supporting the YWCA’s 12th annual “Stuff the Bus” event, which has gathered toys, pots and pans, dishes, personal care items and other necessities for women and children in its emergency shelter.