The 2007 Minnesota Public Transit Association has named Paul Bunyan Transit the Transit System of the Year.

The award is presented to an organization that demonstrates efficiency and effectiveness in the community. Paul Bunyan Transit was cited for reporting on ridership, meeting budget, safety and maintenance proficiency.

"We are very proud of it," said Greg Negard, executive director of Paul Bunyan Transit.

He said he will attend the Minnesota Public Transit Conference Monday at the St. Cloud Civic Center and accept the award.

Negard said 81 of Minnesota's 87 counties support public transit. Paul Bunyan Transit resulted in a 1999 merger of the Bemidji and Beltrami public transit companies. He said Paul Bunyan Transit is a nonprofit service with operating costs funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Capital purchases, notably buses, and funded through a 20 percent Beltrami County-Bemidji match of MnDOT money derived from the Greater Minnesota Fund and state motor vehicle sales tax. Fares of $1.25 for adults and 50 cents for children traveling with an adult also support the service, Negard said.

He said the service tries to be innovative in meeting the community's needs. For example, all the buses are wheelchair accessible and are equipped with a boarding chair for people who have difficulty climbing aboard.

Negard said Paul Bunyan Transit also endeavors to be innovative in scheduling. This year, Northwest Technical College and Bemidji State University have entered into an agreement with the bus company to provide student passes as part of the college-university benefits.

"That's growing every day, really taking off, and as it gets colder, it will be (used) even more," he said.

As another innovation, Paul Bunyan Transit also sells $40 summer activity passes so youngsters whose parents are at work can ride to the library, ball fields, soccer practice and other recreational sites.

This winter, Paul Bunyan Transit and Buena Vista Ski Area have worked out a ski bus deal. Riders can ride from Bemidji to the ski hill for $5 round trip or buy a season pass for $50. Negard said the bus would make about 26 trips during the skiing season on Saturdays and school holidays.

The regular bus schedule serves about a 10-mile radius of Bemidji from Beltrami County Road 22 in the north, state Highway 89 in the west, Beltrami County Road 27 in the east and the Beltrami-Hubbard County line in the south.

"We do not go into Hubbard or Cass counties," he said.

A bus also goes to the Pinewood-Debs area on Tuesdays and Thursdays if riders call for service, and to the Kelliher-Waskish area on Fridays.

"We're a dial-a-ride service, curb to curb except for the college route," Negard said.

Paul Bunyan Transit runs 11 buses and employs four office staff and 16 drivers. The company has logged 18,000 service hours this year and provided 90,000 rides. Buses accommodate 20 riders and will run with a minimum of four passengers.

Hours of operation are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., but those wishing to ride should call 24 hours in advance. Negard said drivers try to accommodate last-minute calls, too, but, "The people who call ahead we have first allegiance to get them where they're going on time."

Because the service is increasingly in demand, Negard said the company should expand. The current facilities at 706 Railroad St. S.E. are too small. He said the plan in the next few years is to buy the property to the south and enlarge the bus garage.