MMDC tests fare-free transit rides in Willmar with grant award

MMDC outside event

In May 2023, the Willmar Area Community Foundation awarded Mid-Minnesota Development Commission (MMDC) a $20,000 grant to reduce transportation barriers for 

Willmar residents. During the six-month pilot period, any rider who boards and departs the transit bus at an established stop along the Central Community Transit (CCT) Willmar Route rides fare-free (at no cost). The pilot is running from July 1 through December 31, 2023, to give MMDC and CCT the opportunity to see how summer, autumn, and winter weather affect fare-free ridership.

“We want to reduce financial barriers to help people get where they need and want to be, whether that be work, school, a doctor’s appointment, or the park,” said MMDC mobility manager Terry Smith. “We also want to encourage more people, those without physical or other limitations, to take advantage of Willmar’s regular route and become less reliant on CCT’s dial-a-ride service.”

The goal is to create some efficiencies for CCT, particularly important due to the current shortage of drivers. As more people board and depart at the established stops, CCT gains a greater ability to accommodate those who must rely on dial-a-ride, curb-to-curb service.

“It’s apparent that WACF understands the barriers faced by our area’s non-drivers, including seniors, people with disabilities, and those with low income,” said MMDC executive director Eric Day. “We appreciate the extent to which they’re willing to be part of the solution.”

The project is funded by the Willmar Area Community Foundation, with $18,000 of the $20,000 grant to compensate CCT for the uncollected fares during the pilot period and the remaining $2,000 spent on outreach through media ads, translations of developed materials, and other communication channels. 

“Opportunities to promote the fare-free route have kept us busy, always looking for those new riders and encouraging them to give riding the bus a try,” Smith added. “By providing updated bus schedules and detailed numbered bus stop maps we have seen how educating riders helps take the mystery out of riding the bus. We anticipate the ride numbers will change as colder weather becomes a factor, and we hope the six-month pilot project will open the doors for other opportunities.”