More and more people are taking advantage of the Take Me There (TMT) bus services every year.
When the service first began 15 years ago, there were 71 customers the first month. The TMT bus services can now reach more than 3,000 customers a month and includes eight regular bus drivers.
Though much of the increase in ridership can be attributed to the cost of fuel and word of the service getting out, the impact of the TMT drivers cannot be understated. Drivers of the TMT buses have been known to deliver groceries to riders homes, carry groceries into the home, shovel sidewalks, get mail and even assist riders at the bank.
The TMT service is a big family, with drivers and riders connected through personal stories and tribulations. Riders on the TMT bus range from just three days old to 104 years old. They are elderly, adults and children all looking to ride one of the four buses or one mini-van to wherever they want to go in Watonwan County. The bus system even travels as far as Mankato three times a week.
“The days get pretty long, but there is just nothing like it,” said Myran Engel, an 11 year TMT bus driver and the 2009 Minnesota Drivers Choice Award winner known as the singing bus driver. “I don’t know what I would have done the last 10 or 11 years without it.”
The TMT bus drivers are a tight-knit group of people who enjoy their job and the people they work with. They work not just as bus drivers, but as friends of the community.
Margaret Anderson has been riding the TMT busses for about 5 years since she gave up her drivers license. She said she enjoys using the bus service because it is convenient, easy and the drivers always help in any way they can.
“All of the bus drivers are nice and like to joke with their riders,” said Anderson.
The TMT bus drivers go the extra mile for their riders. Not only do the drivers get their riders to and from appointments in a timely manner, but they make sure their riders are doing alright. If a rider is having a difficult time with anything in their lives, the drivers of the TMT bus service are more than willing to lend an ear to listen or take them any place they’d like to cheer them up.
Drivers deal daily with young riders who might be taking the bus for the first time and are nervous about riding with a stranger. Nine times out of ten when the child is done with their first ride the children are excited to see the drivers again.
However, young riders of TMT aren’t the only people who are initially hesitant to ride the TMT bus said Virgil Stradtman, seven year TMT bus driver, 2012 Minnesota Drivers Choice Award winner and 2009 fourth place finisher at the annual Minnesota Bus Rodeo.
Page 2 of 2 - “Trying to convince these older people to ride for the first time can be hard,” said Stradtman. “Once we can get this person on the bus, show them we can take them to the hospital, walk them to the desk – they think ‘this is pretty good, I don’t have to bother my children.”
Deb McQuire uses the bus service to get to medical appointments in St. James and Mankato. The bus service is convenient and makes St. James a better place to live, says McQuire.
“The drivers greet you with a smile and always tell you when they drop you off to have a good day,” said McQuire. “They enlighten my day – a lot of communities don’t have this service, so it’s really nice what they do.”
McQuire went on to say that the community is fortunate because the drivers offer services to people of all ages from pre-schoolers to the elderly.
McQuire’s granddaughter uses the bus service to get to and from school and said the bus drivers are just like grandpas.
“The TMT bus services are very affordable and accommodating, so call Marge!” said Virgil Goltz, an eight year veteran driver of the TMT bus service in Watonwan County.
Marge Smith coordinates all of the routes for the TMT drivers and is owed a lot of the credit for how well the TMT services have done in Watonwan County. Marge says if a person rides the bus just once, they’re hooked.
Marge knows how to pick people to drive and believes that although everyone can drive a bus, not everyone can be a bus driver.
Last year the TMT bus service transported 24,940 passengers. They are on pace to surpass that amount by a lot this year – at already about 2,000 more riders this year than in 2012 Marge is hoping to surpass 30,000 riders this year. The buses travel about 17,000 miles a month taking passengers to Fairmont, New Ulm, Windom, Madelia and as far as Mankato.
The buses are also available for rent to private parties with rates at $60 an hour for a minimum of three hours.
If you’d like to try a ride on a TMT bus or are in need of transport to and from appointments or school contact Marge at (507) 375-7385, or 1-888-320-RIDE (7433) outside of St. James. Hours are 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.