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Prairie Lakes Transit to aid some veterans

FAIRMONT — With Veterans Day approaching, Prairie Lakes Transit is looking to spread the word about a little known benefit for some of its riders. In March, 2019, the Faribault-Martin County Transit Board worked with staff for the transit system and each county’s Veterans Service Office along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to draft a policy for veterans with service connected disabilities.

The policy states that any veteran that has a certified service connected disability will be able use Prairie Lakes Transit buses without paying a fare. Transit Director Jeremy Monahan explains the policy, noted that it is exclusive and not open to all.

“We want to be careful, because service connected disability can quickly get shortened to disabled veteran and that can get shortened to veteran,” he said. “We’re just not able to provide it for every veteran or even every disabled veteran. It’s only for those whose disability is connected to their service.

“This is a rule for larger urban systems like in the Twin Cities and other metro areas, they are obligated to provide free transit for service connected disabled veterans,” he continued. “So Jenna Schmidtke over in Faribault County found out about it. I had heard about it once, but I knew that it wasn’t applicable to our system because smaller rural systems like ours are a different classification transit system.

“But Jenna brought it up and asked if we were able to do this. I had to check with MnDOT and so I worked with them and they said that while we’re not required to do it we can if want to adopt a policy. So we brought that to the Transit Board and they were all for it.”

“We wanted to make sure it was sustainable, because you don’t want to give away so many free rides that you’re hurting yourself. But we did a rough calculation and figured the amount of use we’re going to get out of it, the tolerance is acceptable.

We definitely wanted to do something, and sometimes it’s hard to give a benefit like this to a specified group but there are exceptions and this is one of them. Since they do it in the big cities, we just thought we’d model that and so we adopted the policy.

“Every other rule applies, they still have to make reservations, they still have to be in line, it’s still first come, first serve, and all the other regulations apply, but they don’t have a fare,” he said. “We have this rule where an attendant can come with somebody for free if they need them to help with a wheelchair or doctor appointment. So in this case the attendent would still ride for free, but the veteran’s health ID card is what counts as the fare for us.”

Monahan states that while the policy was put in place earlier this year there was a misstep in sharing that information. However, steps are being taken to share the information with the public.

“It’s a nice benefit, Jenna brought it up to me and then we talked to Doug Landsteiner in Martin County and he was on board, and then the transit board was for it. We wanted to make sure we did it correctly, so we took our time last spring in crafting this policy and they passed it in March. But what happened is we weren’t getting a lot of use out of it.

“So I think there was a miscommunication, because the policy was in force once it was passed. So I contacted Jenna and Doug a couple of weeks ago and I just want to remind everybody about the policy and they’re doing some more activity to promote the benefit and contact people.

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