Israel Gray would see students ambling along County Road 42 when he drove to class at Dakota County Technical College (DCTC) in Rosemount, so he started offering lifts in his Jeep Liberty when their schedules matched.
It wasn’t just that they lacked cars. There was no bus that went to their school.
Starting Aug. 20, just in time for fall semester, that will change. The college’s 2,300 students will be able to get to school on a Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) bus, extending Route 420 from the Rosemount Transit Center 2 miles away.
“It was just something that needed to be done,” said Gray, an information management major who served as vice president of the DCTC Student Senate last semester. “It’s a positive for all of us.”
The two-year pilot program will connect DCTC to the bus rapid transit Red Line in Apple Valley, which goes north to the Mall of America and links there to Minneapolis via the Blue Line light rail train.
“It’s a regional connection now,” said Luther Wynder, MVTA’s executive director.
Funding was the main holdup in getting transit to DCTC, along with a lack of other destinations nearby, Wynder said. Dakota County will fund four of the route’s daily trips at an annual cost of $165,000, while MVTA will pay $50,000 to $55,000 annually for the other two trips, he said.
Rosemount Mayor Bill Droste said that community college students, whether traditional or older, need transit options. With more homes popping up in the area, including county-built workforce housing, the college no longer will be isolated and the extended route makes even more sense, he said.
“This is something I’ve heard about ever since I’ve been around as mayor,” said Droste, who also chairs the MVTA board. “I think it’s going to help DCTC.”
Student Senate President Susan Garcia said in a March letter to the DCTC community that student leaders had been pushing for transit to DCTC since 2013, and that they heard frequently from students struggling with ways to get to school.
“We’ve also heard from prospective students who decide not to attend DCTC because they don’t have a transportation option to get to the campus,” Garcia said.
The extended route has been a long time coming, though there have been other short-lived efforts to bring transit to DCTC. For decades, walking, biking or hitching a ride has been a fact of life for students.
A 2016 DCTC survey found that 30 percent of students were interested in transit and that the top cities where they lived were Burnsville, Rosemount and Lakeville.
Michael Berndt, interim president of DCTC and Inver Hills Community College, praised the collaboration by the county, college and MVTA that resulted in the new service. It can be hard for colleges alone to meet certain fundamental student needs, he said: “Even though we know they’re critical to student success … it’s often outside our mission.”
Wynder said that when he became MVTA’s executive director several years ago, he surveyed the community about unmet needs. Transportation to DCTC came up continually, he said, which he found interesting because millennials like using transit and often don’t have cars.
“I don’t think you can go wrong investing in children or investing in the next generation,” he said.
The extended route will offer a total of 11 trips a day to and from DCTC, Monday through Friday, with most fares ranging from $2.50 to $3.25. It will run year-round so that summer students can use it.
“It’s going to take awhile to build ridership,” Wynder said, adding that business usually picks up in a route’s second year.
Dakota County Commissioner Tom Egan said that the transit service fits with several county objectives, including figuring out more ways to move people east to west across the county. He said the service will make DCTC more marketable and simplify students’ trips to school.
“This is important to them,” he said.