Jill Smith took her first ride on a Metro Transit bus Wednesday  Photo by Tim Harlow

Try the riding the bus, you just might like it.

That's the thought behind an initiative Wednesday at Gillette Children's Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, which partnered with Metro Transit to shuttle nearly 200 employees from its off-site office across the Mississippi River from downtown to the hospital's main campus for the annual employee picnic.

A $5 refillable Go-To card to cover the round-trip fare plus free food and Dilly Bars was a deal most employees could not pass up. But the hope is that many will become regular bus riders to ease a parking crunch at 10 River Park Plaza and at Gillette’s main campus attached to Regions Hospital.

Jill Smith, of Burnsville, who works in the communications and advertising department, had never ridden a city bus until she hopped on a Route 68 at 10:58 a.m.  A little nervous at first, she swipped her card, then asked the typical questions first-time riders do.

"Do we have to tell them where we want to get off? (She learned how to pull the cord to signal for a stop.) If you get off at the wrong stop, do you just get right back on?"

By the time she arrived at the company picnic 7 minutes later, she was ready to give public transportation a go.

"I like it. It's very calm and less stressful. Driving down Robert Street is very white knuckley," Smith said. "I'm going to take the bus tomorrow."

About 25 percent of Gillette's workforce housed at the blue-tinted office on River Park Plaza where the hospital moved its communication, advertising, employee education and development, information systems and the Gillette Foundation last year, currently use transit to get to work. By taking employees to the picnic on the bus, Dennis Jolley, a Gillette vice president who oversees the departments, hopes the outing will create a "mind shift" showing employees that the car does not have to be king.

Employees described their experience as "cool," "convenient" and something "they'd consider using more."

For Libby Utter, who works in the Gillette Foundation and makes many trips between the two campuses for meetings, the bus ride was an eye-opener. Next time, she said, she might just leave the car in park.

"You don't think about it. You just drive," she said as she got off a Route 68, one of three routes that stop at or near the River Park Plaza campus. "I'll try the bus."

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