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Rural Health Information Hub

Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Rural Transportation

  • Need: Public transportation options in a rural 8-county area in northwest Minnesota.
  • Intervention: A coordinated public transportation and volunteer driver system which serves northwest Minnesota.
  • Results: Increased ridership and affordable access to transportation for residents of 8 counties in rural, northwest Minnesota.


In 2002, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council assumed responsibility for coordinating a public transportation system (Tri-Valley Heartland Express) and volunteer driver system (Rural Transportation Collaborative) to serve a sparsely populated, very rural 8-county area covering northwest Minnesota. Transportation systems like Tri-Valley Opportunity Council that operate across county lines are unusual, but economical and beneficial to rural areas.

Tri-Valley Opportunity Council logo

Tri-Valley, which had provided transportation for human service needs since 1975, was one of several area agencies involved in providing public transportation in northwest Minnesota. In order to become more efficient and effective, funding from the Minnesota Department of Human Services was used to put all agencies' vehicles under one coordination practice that Tri-Valley Opportunity Council operates. Tri-Valley has increased usage, eliminated duplicate services, and is operating in the black.

This system is available to anyone who wishes to use it, regardless of age or income level. Users can call a central number to schedule a ride, or can access Tri-Valley Heartland Express buses that follow a published schedule of stops throughout the 8-county area. Rural Transportation Collaborative volunteers, driving their own vehicles and receiving mileage expenses but no pay, fill in the gaps to provide rides unavailable through the scheduled bus system. These volunteers must complete a background check and the educational program.

Services offered

  • Tri-Valley Heartland Express bus provides public transportation in handicapped accessible buses. Curb-to-curb service is available. All routes are demand response, although some routes are scheduled out of city limits on a deviated route basis. This service is provided seven days a week.
  • Tri-Valley Heartland Express also operates Summer Fun/Recreation buses for children in some communities.
  • Rural Transportation Collaborative (RTC) coordinates volunteer drivers to transport people for medical appointments, education, work activities, child visitations, or other personal matters. RTC volunteer drivers are available 7 days a week with extended hours.
  • Jefferson Bus Lines stops twice daily for passengers. Tickets are available at Tri-Valley's office, located at 1345 Fairfax Avenue in Crookston, Minnesota.
Tri-Valley Opportunity Council bus


In 2022, Tri-Valley Opportunity Council helped people obtain access to reliable transportation in the form of 167,519 rides. Of these rides, 160,626 were through the Tri-Valley Heartland Express, while the remaining 6,893 were through the Rural Transportation Collaborative.

Tri-Valley Heartland Express was one of three transit companies that received the 2016 Award for Outstanding Public Transportation Service in Rural Public Transportation from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Awardees were selected from other transportation services across the United States for showing outstanding work to "improve the mobility of Americans in rural areas and enhanced access to employment, healthcare, and community services."


  • Keeping transportation affordable for riders, but remaining financially viable
  • Sparse resources in a dispersed population means covering a large geographic area with a minimal number of vans/buses, few personnel, and small budgets
  • Lack of available funds for transportation programs in northern Minnesota is a barrier for the sustainability of a rural transit program.


In order for a program like this to be financially successful, dedication to grant acquisition must be a priority. Ridership costs would be too high for people if the program had to be completely self-sustaining based on user fees.

Contact Information

Elizabeth Hensrud, Assistant Director of Transportation Programs
Tri-Valley Opportunity Council, Inc
Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Rural Transportation

Community engagement and volunteerism

States served

Date added
July 18, 2008

Date updated or reviewed
October 12, 2023

Suggested citation: Rural Health Information Hub, 2023. Tri-Valley Opportunity Council Rural Transportation [online]. Rural Health Information Hub. Available at: [Accessed 16 June 2024]

Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.