St. Michael hesitant to sign transit agreement

Invites Trailblazer for more information

The St. Michael City Council has many questions to resolve before it signs a proposed joint powers agreement for transit services.

The council thus concluded to invite representatives from the Trailblazer transportation group to the next council meeting.

City administrator Steve Bot provided an update regarding the joint powers agreement. The agreement is between Wright County cities looking to negotiate with Trailblazer, which is based in Glencoe. Trailblazer is the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) preferred transit partner for Wright County, in light of the current dissolution of River Rider service July 1.

Because the Wright County Board and Trailblazer could not reach an agreement (Trailblazer halted negotiations after squabbles with the board), Wright County cities formed the joint powers agreement. Bot said five cities have so far signed the agreement.

Bot noted Trailblazer’s service would be based on more local share than River Rider. “Funding is based on use, rather than other factors like population,” he said. “The decision is whether to jump on board with the joint powers or wait or hope the county works something out.”

County board member Mark Daleiden was present and said MnDOT already approved Trailblazer providing transportation in Wright County for 18 months beginning July 1, with or without the joint powers.

Mayor Jerry Zachman asked Daleiden, “So the county doesn’t need us to do the joint powers?”

“No,” Daleiden said. “The whole issue is we need to provide rides to people who use it. Now Trailblazer is it.”

Councilor Joe Marx asked Daleiden what costs the city can expect for the service. “Nobody knows,” Daleiden responded.

Councilor Kevin Kasel said the unknown expenses “make me want to pound the table! My concern is that we’re signing up for things that we don’t intend on signing up for. My frustration is with the Wright County Board. This shouldn’t be the cities’ responsibility.”

Kasel then said to Daleiden, “I hope you find a way to come to an agreement.”

Daleiden responded, “A lot of things could have been avoided if (Trailblazer) didn’t shut out Wright County. The shouldn’t have shut down the county board.”

Councilor Chris Schumm asked Bot if the city would have a voice if it signed the agreement, and Bot responded that the city “would have a seat at the table.”

Bot and Daleiden noted the lack of information from River Rider about how many riders from St. Michael presently use the service. Daleiden said the board “was shocked” to learn of problems associated with River Rider’s lack of organization.

Bot said Trailblazer would be much more transparent about who uses its services. “Trailblazer will tell us, down to the person, how many people board a bus in St. Michael,” he said. “They have a successful system that works well.”

Daleiden added, “Trailblazer is a class act. They will have some data on what to expect of ridership, a lot of technology and a nice website.”

Kasel was concerned that if the city signs the agreement, it is locked in for the five years the agreement covers. Bot said it takes about that long to iron out all the kinks and get the system running effectively.

Councilor Nadine Schoen confirmed that the city isn’t on the hook for costs unless its citizens use the service, and that St. Michael “has a say” if it signs the agreement.

Mayor Zachman suggested waiting for more information before signing. “Let’s get an estimate of the costs,” he said.

Kasel added, “It would be nice to put a (dollar) cap on this.”

Bot confirmed the concerns are that the city has no idea what the costs would be, and that maybe Trailblazer could provide an estimate. The council then agreed to table the matter and ask Trailblazer to attend the next council meeting.

“How are they going to sell this?” Zachman said. “It is our responsibility.”