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Bemidji City Council: Bus shelters to remain in place for now

The bus shelters at the intersection of Fourth Street Northwest and Beltrami Avenue Northwest will remain in place.

For now.

The Bemidji City Council voted 6-0 Monday night to not accept a request from the Downtown Development Authority to remove the shelters. Councilor Roger Hellquist was absent.

It had been believed that the bus shelters no longer were on an active bus route, according to council documents.

But Councilor Greg Negard, who serves as the executive director for Paul Bunyan Transit, said that's not true.

He explained it this way: Bemidji years ago had a fixed-route system when the transit system was operated by the city of Bemidji. With the fixed-route system, the bus shelters were erected.

But later, the state of Minnesota took over transit responsibilities through the Minnesota Department of Transportation by doling out state and federal funds to local transit companies. Under that arrangement, as it is now, it became a rule that in order to have a fixed-route system, a region would need a population of 50,000, which Bemidji does not.

So the city now, through Paul Bunyan Transit, utilizes a dial-a-ride program and a deviated route system. A deviated route system, according to the Greater Minnesota Transit Plan, is a system through which "a vehicle travels a basic route, picking up and dropping off passengers anywhere along the route. On request, and perhaps with additional charge, the vehicle will deviate a few blocks from the route to pick up and deliver a passenger."

The bus shelters, Negard said, are locations set along the bus route.

"It's used sparingly," he admitted.

But he fought for preservation of the shelters.

"Bus shelters can be very expensive," he said, estimating costs between $5,000 and $6,000. "So the last thing I would want to do is see them demolished. They could be picked up, stored and used someplace else at a later date."

The DDA was not represented at the meeting. The request to remove the shelters had been included in the consent agenda, but was pulled for discussion by Negard.

The reason for the request was not clear. However, some councilors suggested that it, perhaps, was due to loitering in the downtown.

"If this is causing a problem for the downtown, and apparently it is or they wouldn't have made this recommendation, if it's going to be a problem with transient people there, maybe the center of downtown isn't a good place," said Councilor Jerry Downs.

Councilor Ron Johnson said he agreed, "The downtown obviously has requested that we move these."

Councilor Barb Meuers, who said she "hates" the word "transient" and requested that the council not use it, wondered how widespread the loitering problem is. Are people also loitering on non-sheltered benches placed throughout downtown, she asked.

Negard made a motion to keep the shelters in place for now while the city looks to consider whether there may be a better location for them, such as, possibly, on the Bemidji State University campus. Also, he asked that the source of the problem be identified.

"At the very least, we do not want to see these destroyed," he said.