WE Fest shuttle drivers say the people make the trips worthwhile
For almost as long as there's been a WE Fest, there has been a shuttle bus service that takes festival-goers and campers back and forth between the Soo Pass Ranch and the city of Detroit Lakes.
For the affordable price of $6 per day, or $14 for the entire 3-day festival, city residents can receive unlimited bus transportation to and from WE Fest, while campers on the festival grounds receive free transportation to and from the city as part of their camping package.
For the second year in a row, those staying in the six hotels along Highway 10 in Detroit Lakes can also obtain shuttle service directly from their hotel to the Becker County Fairgrounds, where they can get their admission wristbands before heading out to the festival.
The WE Fest shuttles run on continuous loop between the festival's west gate, the county fairgrounds and Norby's Department Store in downtown Detroit Lakes, from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. on each of the three days of the festival. Shuttle users can park downtown or at the fairgrounds for free.
The hotel shuttles run once every hour, on the hour, and make stops at AmericInn, Best Western, Budget Host, Country Inn & Suites, Holiday Inn and the Lodge on Lake Detroit before heading out to the fairgrounds.
According to Detroit Lakes Chamber Tourism Director Cleone Stewart, the shuttle service was started as a means of lessening the traffic congestion around the festival site, and to provide additional parking for WE Fest outside the grounds of the Soo Pass, which only has a limited amount of parking space outside the campsites.
But it has also become a major fundraiser for the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the service each year.
Chamber volunteers staff the booths at each of the shuttle stops and help coordinate dispatch services for the buses, which are in turn staffed by drivers from Anderson Bus & Coach of Detroit Lakes.
Owner Ted Anderson said his company began running the shuttle service about 15 years ago under contract with the Chamber.
"We run 18 buses, with about 25 drivers," he said, noting that for each of the buses that run continuously from 10 a.m. onward, there are two drivers, one who takes the morning and afternoon shift, and the other who works from evening until early morning.
Because of increased traffic flow, there are more buses running for the evening service than during the morning and afternoon, Anderson added.
Despite the volume of people using the service over the years, he said, he doesn't recall any major problems.
"They're great people," he said. "Everybody's coming here to have a good time, and I think that's why the drivers enjoy it too."
Both Marlin Miller and Bob Jay, who have been working the WE Fest shuttle route since Anderson took over the service 15 years ago, agreed that it was the people who made the job worthwhile.
"You meet people from all over," Miller said. "A lot of the time you see the same people year after year... especially some of the locals that ride the shuttle."
Though he didn't want to get too specific, Miller said he had "seen a little bit of everything over the years."
He said that singing along with the radio is a favorite pastime of the shuttle riders.
Though Jay, like Miller, often sees a lot of the same shuttle patrons from year to year, there are also plenty of newcomers.
"You see a variety," he said, adding that the age of festival-goers also varies widely, often depending on who is performing on a given night.
And yes, they do get their share of shuttle users who have imbibed a little too freely of the many "adult beverages" available at the festival throughout the day.
"We sometimes see them pass out in the grass and spend the night in the fairgrounds," he said. "But the people overall are pretty great."
Though there is no tip jar on the bus, and no tipping system for shuttle users, Jay said many of them do give a few dollars to the drivers, "which is always great."
"People do appreciate the ride -- it keeps them safe getting to and from the festival," he added.
On average, each driver makes about 20 trips to and from the Soo Pass each day, Jay said.
"It depends on the traffic," he added.
The busiest times for the drivers, Miller said, are from 2-4 p.m. and after the last main stage music performer has finished for the evening, around 12:30-1 a.m.