SMART Transit beginning Albert Lea routes

Published 9:27 am Saturday, December 29, 2018

On Wednesday, SMART Transit will begin its new shuttle route between Austin and Albert Lea in conjunction with Mayo Clinic Health System.

The new transportation schedule was made possible through an annual grant for $64,000 through the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

SMART Transit Operations Manager Kirk Kuchera said they have been hard at work making sure the routes are lined up and ready to go.

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“Couple of months ago we learned we were getting the grant for operating for the shuttle,” Kuchera said. “Since then, a lot of people have been piecing things together to make it happen. We’ve been working with Mayo and a lot of stuff internally to make it work with existing bus lines and schedules.”

A new route will run Tuesdays and Thursdays as the shuttle, but will also be part of the already in place Monday, Wednesday, Friday route for dialysis patients.

Kuchera said that the route will run every 90 minutes round trip, or roughly 30-45 minutes one way depending on weather and road conditions.

This is actually the second time SMART applied to MnDot for the extended service. The first was in 2017 for the 2018 year, but SMART was part of several entities turned down by the state that year.

“The new service grants were denied virtually for all service expansions,” Kuchera said.

The grant itself includes two different areas — operation of the service as well as capital expenses that cover salaries and fuel.

However, the capital expenses portion was turned down, thus preventing SMART from purchasing another bus, which they are hoping to further explore later down the line.

That actually depends on a variety of factors that reflect ridership, which Kuchera said has been going strong.

“We always annualize our services and have a lot of different metrics to gauge our services,” Kuchera said. “We’ve been growing every year.”