By Kris Leonhardt
During Nov. 28 Marshfield Common Council action, council members approved a raise in shared ride service rates that will go into effect in 2018.
“The shared ride taxi system is primarily largely covered and operated, the expenses covered, by federal and state grant dollars in combination with fees and fares,” explained Finance Director Keith Strey. “The fares are a very small portion of it. The city receives over $300,000 in operating assistance grants annually for the operations, and grants also cover 80 percent of the vehicle purchases. We own the vehicles and lease them to whoever is providing the service for us.
“So, the goal with the process all along has been to keep these services off of the tax levy.”
While the service is primarily funded through aid, Strey said that a growth in residents using the cabs is causing stress on an over-taxed service.
“Looking back at growth in ridership… annual ridership reported to Wisconsin DOT in 2011 was 81,270 rides provided,” he said. “By 2016, that was over 103,000, and we are project to be well over 105,000 in rides – that is a significant increase in a short period of time.
“This is not a unique trend to Marshfield. Overall, there is increased ridership across the state, as people age and rely on these services more or for various reasons.
“What that has created is a significant challenge with meeting wait time expectations. The equipment improvements have helped to some degree. Back when Running Inc. took this over, we had two running vehicles that could handle wheelchair passengers. By last year, working with Wisconsin DOT for funding and doing some other adjustments, we were able to get the last of the vehicles converted over so all 13 vehicles of the fleet that we own can handle wheelchair passengers. That provided significant flexibility.”
Though the vehicle conversions have helped, Strey said that there are still significant wait times that need to be addressed, but the city is tied to the contract that exists with Running Inc. and the operation of the contract is watched very closely by the Wisconsin DOT.
This presents a need for increasing driver hours to decrease wait times.
“We spoke with Wisconsin DOT and under the grant requirements and limitations; we are able to increase the hours to a certain degree… If we have too big of an increase, then we have to bid out the service because then you have changed the scope of the service… frankly it is too late to do that for 2018,” Strey said.
Strey said that the hours that they would be permitted to raise the service would be equivalent to approximately 40 hours a week.
A raise in fare would introduce revenue to cover the additional hours.
Justin Running for Running Inc. said that the greatest need for additional hours comes in the middle of the day, but the hours would be adjusted to accommodate the needs as they present themselves.
In a 9-0 vote, with Alderman Peter Hendler absent, the council passed a 15 cent increase for full ridership and a 10 cent increase for seniors and disabled for 2018. New fares will be $5 for full ridership and $2.85 for seniors and disabled.
Strey said that the last fare increase came in 2014.