Serving the region; Public transportation is a phone call away thanks to MIDAS

-Messenger file photo
Shelly Mahan, a veteran with MIDAS transit, was appointed transit director last fall. She’s responsible for managing 46 transit buses, drivers and service in the six-county MIDAS region.

You probably associate the words public transit with family or friends in Chicago, Denver, or Minneapolis, who take a train or bus to work. Some of these people get by with one car, or avoid buying a second car, by relying on public transportation.

You may be surprised, though, to learn most of America’s 1.6 million households without access to a car are in rural counties, not cities.

How do these people get around?

Recently, Shelly Mahan, transit director for MIDAS since fall 2021, invited me to her Fort Dodge office to find out.

MIDAS was founded in 1972 as a State of Iowa Council of Governments organization of six north central Iowa counties: Calhoun, Hamilton, Humboldt, Pocahontas, Webster and Wright.

These inter-governmental agencies provide services counties aren’t staffed or funded to manage on their own, including planning, community development, housing and public transportation. An 18-member board, with three representatives from each county, sets policy for the agency at monthly meetings, which are open to the public.

Today, 46 small, red-and-white buses provide transit service in the six-county region.

A single mechanic maintains the fleet at a shop in downtown Fort Dodge.

A typical MIDAS bus seats 28 passengers, and has a built-in lift to allow the infirm or handicapped to travel without leaving their wheelchairs. All buses are equipped with cameras; some facing forward, some to either side, and some focused on the bus interior. The cameras run whenever the bus is moving, and, explains Mahan, “are for the safety of both the public and drivers.” Recordings are only accessed in case of accident, complaint of driver misconduct, attacks on drivers, or other, similar incidents.

Buses are based in MIDAS garages in Fort Dodge, Clarion, Humboldt and Webster City, positioning them close to the work they do each day.

Mahan says demand for transportation in each county and town is different, and may vary daily, seasonally, or by time of the month.

The most common need is transportation to work, school, grocery or other shopping, medical appointments, or for social reasons. Most customers are elderly, may no longer drive, don’t own a car, or have a handicap.

Despite a reputation as “transport of last resort,” however, Mahan stresses, “our service is open to anyone, any time.”

Most buses operate in what MIDAS calls “demand-responsive” service. To the public, it’s simply “dial-a-ride.” Most people book in advance, calling MIDAS, and telling the operator where they live or wish to be picked up, where they’re going, and when they need to be there, and return.

MIDAS takes it from there, with dispatchers who work from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday arranging details of each service.

Adults pay $2.50 per trip with advance reservations for this typically door-to-door service. Seniors, those 60 or older and who’ve completed an application through Elderbridge Agency On Aging, may obtain an ID card entitling them to a reduced fare of $2 per trip.

Where necessary, MIDAS runs other services to meet local needs.

One example is the use of dial-a-ride service by students going to schools in Webster City. This service is used by 25 students every school day, and is well-suited to students who may, for a variety of reasons, be unable to use regular school bus service.

Another MIDAS bus runs from Fort Dodge to the Prestage Foods of Iowa, the meat processing plant near Eagle Grove, helping workers who otherwise couldn’t get to work, and helping the company hire badly needed workers.

Another such route takes inmates of the North Central Iowa Correctional Facility in Fort Dodge to employment in Humboldt.

Several other employers in the six-county region want to start such service as employees struggle with the high costs of owning and operating a car, but Mahan noted “we just don’t have the drivers at this time.”

Funding for MIDAS transit is provided by the United States government through the Federal Transit Administration’s section 5311 non-urban transit program. These funds provide capital to build garages, terminals and new buses, and operating funds to cover driver’s wages and maintenance expenses, and can only be used by cities or regions of 50,000 people or less. Section 5311 funds have been available each year since 1979, and today support demand-responsive transit, similar to that run by MIDAS, in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

If you wish to try MIDAS transit service, phone 515-573-8145 for more information, or to make a reservation for dial-a-ride service to your door.

If you’re 60 or older, and wish to get a senior ID card qualifying you for reduced fares on MIDAS transit, phone Elderbridge Agency On Aging at 515-955-5244.


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