Timber Trails Public Transit Director Helen Pieper sits down with Gordon Gullixson, Mayor of Quamba, to discuss local public transportation during a 2-day Accessible Transportation Coalition event Sept. 25-26.

Kirsten Faurie

Keeping rides accessible to rural patrons is one of several challenges facing public transportation in the Kanabec and Mille Lacs County areas. Now, a new coalition is hoping to improve local public transit service.

Kanabec County Timber Trails Public Transit was among 10 communities selected to receive the Accessible Transportation Community Initiative grant offered by Easterseals Project Action Consulting, which is the consulting arm of Easterseals Inc.

Timber Trails’ first step was to host a two-day Accessible Transportation Coalition event. The coalition first met Sept. 25-26 at the Grand Event Center in Mora.

More than 40 people attended. At the end of the 2-day event, the bunch named themselves the TRY Group (Transportation Resources for You).

The TRY group developed their vision statement: Coordinate, develop, and promote sensible transportation resources that address gaps and improve regional services to enhance quality of life.

Timber Trails Public Transit Director Helen Pieper called the event a huge success and felt the TRY group had come up with a number of worthwhile objectives to work toward.

The group met again in December.

Volunteer recruitment

One of the more immediate needs which was heavily discussed among the coalition is a need for volunteer drivers. However, the tax code has made recruiting volunteers difficult.

Here is how Pieper explained it:

“Timber Trails, like most rural transportation agencies, relies heavily on volunteer drivers. It is almost the only way to provide rides in super-rural areas. Recent interpretation of tax code made it mandatory that volunteer drivers receive a 1099 for their mileage reimbursement. If they receive at 1099, even though they are reimbursed what the IRS says it costs to run a vehicle, they may now have a tax liability and end up paying to volunteer.

“That triggered another problem; even though they are volunteering their time and getting reimbursed the IRS business mileage rate (just what the IRS says it costs to run a vehicle) it puts them in jeopardy of being a carrier for hire and they may no longer be able to drive under their personal car insurance.”

The TRY group hopes to take on this, and other needs and challenges including: organization of trips and eliminating boundaries of those trips; coordinating resources like volunteers, community outreach and education; and working with government representatives who influence transportation policy.

Kirsten Faurie is the editor of the Kanabec County Times.