Whitewater might pull its funding for bus line to Milton and Janesville

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Andrea Anderson
Saturday, November 16, 2013

WHITEWATER—It's not clear how the Janesville-Milton-Whitewater Innovation Express bus service would be affected if Whitewater and UW-Whitewater pull their funding, a Janesville official said.

The proposed 2014 Whitewater city budget does not include the estimated $18,000 requested by the Janesville Transit System for the bus service, Whitewater City Council President Patrick Singer said.

“It's not necessarily about not funding the bus, it's about funding other things in our budget,” Singer said.

The council, which meets Tuesday night, wants to focus on a building repair fund and increasing a fund balance for undesignated projects, Singer said.

How the bus routes and services will be affected if Whitewater decides not to continue funding is unclear, said Dave Mumma, Janesville Transit System director.

Milton, Whitewater, UW-Whitewater and Generac Power Systems in Whitewater fund the bus service. Janesville Transit System provides equipment, maintenance and administrative services worth $250,000, Mumma said.

Milton, Generac Power Systems and Janesville have committed to continue funding for 2014. UW-Whitewater partners with the city of Whitewater and matches the city's contribution. 

Jeff Arnold, UW-Whitewater vice chancellor for administration affairs, said the university can't say if it will continue funding because it is "committed to supporting the city of Whitewater."

The bus service began in April 2012 at the request of Generac to improve access to public transportation for employees from outside Whitewater. It has since added two daily weekday trips, three Saturday trips and one Sunday trip.

The estimated cost of operation for 2014 is about $395,000. Last year it cost about $360,000.

In 2013, 67 percent of the cost was covered by a state Department of Transportation grant for new public transportation. The grant cannot be renewed, dropping state and federal aid to 55.5 percent for 2014. The sponsors are left to covering the difference.

The sponsors were warned a cost increase was coming, Milton Mayor Brett Frazier said.

Milton provided about $15,000 for 2013 and is providing $27,000 for 2014.

“We budgeted for that because we see the value,” Frazier said. “We didn't assume that everyone would be on board, but we felt the numbers speak for themselves and that the value is fairly self-evident.”

For the eight months the bus service ran in 2012, the service provided 5,167 one-way rides. From January 2013 to October 2013, a total of 15,191 rides were given – nearly triple 2012 ridership.

“The additional trips and higher level of service has had the desired effect, and that number keeps going up,” Mumma said.

Data provided by Janesville Transit System shows the two heaviest users of the bus service are Generac Power Systems and Janesville with a combination of about 80 percent of the total rides given. Whitewater and UW-Whitewater account for about 7 percent of ridership.

Singer said those numbers make it is hard to justify giving the bus line a higher priority for tax dollars than other needs.

Tim Hearden, vice president of operations for Generac Power Systems in Whitewater, said he was surprised when he heard the city of Whitewater might pull its support. He encouraged the city council to reconsider.

“We believe that the success of that program requires a long-term commitment from community partners,” Hearden said. “It is too soon to withdraw support when we are moving in the right direction.”

The city council is considering a compromise.

There has been talk of providing $10,000, the same amount provided last year, with another sponsor making up the $8,000 difference, Singer said.

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