Public transportation small but mighty in Southeast Iowa

Washington County Minibus provides about 5,700 rides a month, Henry County residents receive free rides for medical appointments

Submitted photo

The SEIBUS is the main mode of public transportation for Henry County Residents and provides them free rides to medical appointments. The service is paid for by the Henry County Board of Health.
Submitted photo The SEIBUS is the main mode of public transportation for Henry County Residents and provides them free rides to medical appointments. The service is paid for by the Henry County Board of Health.

Driving has historically been the way to navigate small towns but for folks in Jefferson, Henry and Washington Counties who cannot or choose not to, the bus is the one and only other option.

The Washington County Minibus has 16 in its fleet to serve the population in Washington County. Director Chris Gaughan said there are typically eight to 10 busses on the road everyday. The busses stay within Washington County with the exception of traveling into Johnson County to drop patients off for medical appointments as necessary.

In Henry County, citizens have the SEIBUS to rely on. Roger Keller, transit director, said there are three routes that are run in the Mt. Pleasant area. They are primarily run Monday through Friday and travel all over Henry County but see the most calls from Mt. Pleasant.

To schedule a bus, riders are asked to call at least 24 hours in advance so the company can make arrangements, he said. The bus will pick up the rider at the curb and payment is required upon entering. All busses are handicap accessible and have wheelchair lifts.

Washington’s Minibus is in operation Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., Gaughan said. On Thursdays, the system is in operation until 8 p.m. just in the City of Washington to help get riders to and from Thursday night activities such as the farmers market during the summer months. The bus also operates from 8 a.m. until 12 p.m. in the city of Washington on Sundays.

Gaughan said because there are so many riders, a 48-hour notice is required if the bus is going to be needed past 5 p.m. and before the office closes on Thursday if a Sunday ride is needed.

“If they know ahead of time it’s a medical appointment, the more notice they can give us the better,” she said.

Keller said the SEIBUS covers a four county area and on average, drivers respond to more than 80 calls per day. In Washington County, Gaughan reported her drivers have about 5,700 trips a month. She said there is no typical ride, as the company will pick up anyone who needs a ride. Keller agreed, but said there is a unique service the company provides that typically has a particular clientele.

Since July 2018, the Henry County Board of Health pays for the SEIBUS to transport people to non-emergency doctors appointments for free, he said. He explained the rider gets dropped off at any medical appointment; dentist, doctor, etc., free of charge. As of September 2019, SEIBUS has been able to provide almost 2,200 free rides for patients.

Other entities in Henry County have caught on and offer rides for those who need it as well. Matt Klundt, Director of Engagement for Iowa Wesleyan University, said the school offers free rides to Walmart. He said the program was initially marketed as being for international students but is open to any student.

Two shuttles pick up students on Wednesday nights in front of the Howe Student Activity Center on campus and drops them off at Walmart. He said the students have about an hour to shop but if they would like to leave earlier, a shuttle will take off as soon as it is full.

Although the grocery store is close, it can be a trek in the winter, he said. Typically the riders increase during these months. Keller, on the other hand, does not see much of a difference in riders.

Keller said they may not want to drive in the weather, but they do not want to stand in it either. He said typically once the weather gets colder the staff see a drop off in the number of riders.

Gaughan reported seeing an increase in riders last year due to winter weather, but weather is also a cause for concern for drivers.

“I try not to close the Minibus if at all possible but we have to take into account our drivers and vehicles and the passengers as well, especially in these winter months,” she said, explaining there are some days where the bus will travel hard surface routes only due to road conditions. “We’re coming into the time of year where the roads are getting a little bit slicker, it’s hard to find close parking spots, so a lot of people in our older population will just call up and we’ll pick them up at the curb and drop them at the door of where they’re going so they don’t have to worry about the cold because they’re already getting on a warm bus and they’re not walking through an icy parking lot. It’s safer.”

Gaughan said the ride can be paid for over the phone with a credit or debit card or frequent riders can receive an invoice. She said the punch card system is often popular in the winter for those who only want to use the bus for the purpose of running errands and not having to walk through the parking lots. The punch card can be purchased form the min bus office and is good for 10 rides she said.

Citizens in Jefferson County have the option to use the public bus system 10-15 Transit. According to its website, the company services 10 counties total and is open seven days a week. A representative from the company was unable to be reached.