Shopping shuttle: Service fills need, gives riders independence
JANESVILLE — A Tuesday shopping trip to Janesville has become routine for Orfordville resident Ramona Coleman thanks to a new county shuttle service.
Coleman often travels with a friend to stores in Janesville, giving her more independence than relying on family members. This week, she stopped at Goodwill, then walked over to Woodman's, followed by a stop at Walgreens on the way out of town.
"We really like it," she said. "You just tell them where you want to go, and they go."
The shopping shuttle has served 42 passengers since it started in early December. Initially, the shuttle ran weekly routes to and from Orfordville and Footville on Tuesdays, Evansville on Thursdays and Edgerton and Milton on Wednesdays.
Because of low ridership, only the Tuesday trip to Orfordville and Footville is now run weekly, said Stephen Skelly, program supervisor for Rock County Transit. The other two routes run only if someone calls to reserve a seat, he said.
Destinations and return times depend on the riders, but they often include Woodman's, Target, the Janesville Mall or Farm & Fleet, returning in the early afternoon, said Justin Svingen, mobility manager for the Rock County Council on Aging.
People can choose their destinations as long as they are in the northern Janesville shopping area, Svingen said. If time allows, the driver can pick up riders and take them to another place, he said.
Coleman encourages other people to use the service.
"It's very nice, and the drivers are very nice, very helpful," Coleman said. "They'll help with our heavy bags."
The service started after the county received nearly $40,000 in additional state funding from the Specialized Transportation Assistance Program for Counties, which is based on the number of people with disabilities and elderly in the county, Svingen said.
"Those numbers in Rock County have increased, so we received some additional funding to provide services," he said.
Only a portion of the additional funding is going to the shuttle, though an exact number was not budgeted, Rock County Council on Aging Director Joyce Lubben said. The remaining funding helps cover rising overhead costs for all transit programs, she said.
A transportation services survey of residents last year identified a need for connecting people in rural towns to the Janesville area for shopping and social activities, Svingen said.
Using that information, three routes were developed to run one day each week. While two of the routes aren't running because of a lack of riders, program officials said they still think the service is worthwhile—it just needs more marketing. Those two routes would be reinstated if there is demand, Svingen said.
The eight-passenger minibus has a wheelchair lift, and the bus can hold up to two wheelchairs per trip. If more than eight people want a ride, it's first-come, first-served.
Svingen recalled a woman who used the shuttle before Christmas. The woman usually got rides with her daughter, but she wanted to buy presents, so the shuttle allowed her to get her Christmas shopping done on her own, he said.
"It's nice to hear it's filling a need," he said.