Decision ends Van Galder bus service for Kandu residents

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May 1, 2010
— For as long as Steve Van Galder can remember, the Janesville bus company founded by his family has been taking Rock County residents to and from work at Kandu Industries.

Not anymore.

Friday was the last day the service was provided for Kandu clients around the county. Many of the company’s clients used the service.

The decision to drop the service was made by Stagecoach, the Scotland-based company that owns Van Galder, said Nancy Sonntag, school bus manager for Van Galder.

The change will affect about 45 Kandu workers who live in Janesville, 40 in Beloit, and 55 in Evansville, Edgerton, Orfordville, Clinton and Milton, Executive Director Gary Bersell said.

The change is an emotional one for Kandu and Van Galder officials as well as for the families of adults with disabilities who work at Kandu.

Sonntag’s voice cracked when she talked about the door-to-door service Van Galder has provided Kandu clients.

“Our drivers are deeply affected by it,” Sonntag said. “Many of them had made an emotional connection with the clients. Some of them have been driving Kandu clients for eight or 10 years.”

Van Galder has been working for four years to find cost savings to keep the service running, she said.

The bus company has been losing money on the Kandu routes for several years and the corporate office won’t allow that practice to continue, she said.

Bersell said Steve Van Galder told him he couldn’t remember a time when the bus company didn’t provide services to Kandu clients. The services might not have lasted as long as they did without Van Galder’s support, Bersell said.

Dave and Sheryl Langrehr run a two-bed foster home in rural Clinton for adults with disabilities. Working at Kandu is something their clients look forward to, Sheryl Langrehr said.

“It’s going to be trying,” Langrehr said. “A lot of families don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Service providers such as the Langrehrs won’t get additional money to drive their clients to work, she said.

Kandu officials in early April met with service providers, caseworkers and parents of adults with disabilities to explain the pending change, Bersell said.

Many clients have said they will quit working at Kandu because their families can’t drive them to and from work, Bersell and Langrehr said.

That’s going to be tough for the non-profit whose clients provide assembly, repackaging, collating and sorting services for businesses such as Hormel, GHC Specialty Brands and ABC Supply, Bersell said.

“We have so many jobs lined up right now we can’t afford to lose any clients,” he said.

The number of Kandu clients riding Van Galder buses started to drop two years ago. In an attempt to cut costs, the bus company adopted a depot-style system for Kandu clients without wheelchairs, Bersell said. The goal was to have families and service providers drop clients at the bus depot, and Van Galder drivers would then take them to one of two Kandu locations in Janesville.

Few Janesville families took advantage of the depot service because it was just as easy for them to drive workers to Kandu, Bersell said.

A similar depot program started last year for Kandu clients who live in Beloit.

The depot service did not apply to Kandu clients who use wheelchairs. They continued to receive door-to-door service.

Clients in outlying areas of the county also have been getting door-to-door service regardless of whether they use wheelchairs.

Those clients are the ones affected by Friday’s change, Bersell said.

When Van Galder announced it was being told to cut the routes, Bersell put out a request for proposals to price replacement services.

He received two bids that each cost tens of thousands of dollars more than the $198,000 Kandu had budgeted for transportation this year, Bersell said.

Janesville Transit Service priced an extension of the Beloit/Janesville express bus route. Even that would have cost Kandu an additional $10,000 plus a $15 weekly fee for clients, Bersell said.

The money that won’t be spent on transportation this year will go back into the Rock County Developmental Disabilities Board’s budget, Bersell said.

Kandu is working with Beloit, Janesville and Rock County officials to find alternative federal funding for transportation.

In the meantime, it’s not clear how Kandu clients will get to work.

Kandu’s client population is aging, and elderly parents can’t drive daily, Bersell said.

“It’s really not an option for some of these families.”

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