Riding bus to Whitewater a 'no-brainer'

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Friday, June 15, 2012
— It's a no-brainer.

That's what two people said earlier this week as they rode a Janesville city bus to their jobs at Generac Power Systems in Whitewater.

The service started April 29 after Generac offered to help pay for it to assure employees had a reliable way to work.

This week, the company sponsored a week of free rides, hoping to encourage ridership.

Similar bus service from Janesville to UW-Whitewater proposed last year did not become a reality after students voted against sponsoring it with student fees.

Several riders interviewed Wednesday said this week's ride-free promotion has convinced them to ride the bus more.

Regular riders interviewed said they ride to save money on gas and wear and tear on their vehicles. They reduce their chances of getting in accidents and don't have to worry about driving in bad weather. If the bus breaks down and they are late for their jobs, it doesn't count against them.

The riders read books, chat or relax before and after their jobs.

Buses leave Janesville at 5 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. to coincide with Generac shifts. Buses collect riders from Generac and pick up others along Milton Avenue, at the Janesville Mall and Walmart. The buses stop in Milton and along the route in Whitewater, as well.

Six riders left Janesville at 1 p.m. Wednesday headed for Whitewater. Two more boarded in Milton.

There had been more riders, those on the bus said, but Generac recently let some temporary workers go.

Chris Olin, Janesville, didn't need the encouragement of a free ride to take the bus Wednesday, although she was happy to get it.

Olin has been a regular rider since the route began. Her husband drops her off at the transfer center in downtown Janesville for the 1 p.m. bus.

When Olin rides the bus, she frees up a family car and saves on its wear and tear. She figures the bus will be "awesome" in the winter.

Another plus? "I am guaranteed not to get picked up for speeding," she said with a smile.

William Hamby—an ex-military man who smiled when he said he's used to mass transit—lives at the edge of Janesville and catches the bus in Milton.

He's been riding the bus since the route began, saving 1,000 miles a month on his car. He has a Chevrolet Tahoe, a vehicle not known for conserving gas, and he figures the $22.50 he pays each week to ride the bus is half the $57.50 it would cost if he were driving.

"That's a no-brainer," Hamby said.

Riding free this week is a bonus, he said, and with a daughter ready to go to college, every penny counts.

Alexis Mielke and Steven Scott, both of Janesville, rode the bus for the first time this week because of the free-ride promotion.

Usually, Mielke carpools. She had thought the bus was too expensive.

Now that she's thought it through, she said it probably

isn't, especially when considering the wear and tear on vehicles.

She relaxes and reads a book on the drive and figures she'll be riding the bus more.

Scott, Janesville, got on the bus at Walmart. He said he would probably ride it more now that he is familiar with it.

Riding the bus is easy, Jaime Onofre said. He doesn't have to worry about his car breaking down and won't have to scrape windows in the winter.

Jim Ames, Milton, said he takes the bus because it's a "whole lot easier. I can sleep on the way."

Thaddeus Minnis, Janesville, has taken the bus since the first day.

Riding the bus frees up a car so his girlfriend can get to work. Normally, he relaxes and reads a book, knowing he is paying $36 a week (riders get one ride free if they buy 10 rides at a time) instead of the $100 in gas his truck would devour.

"I see it as a total positive," Minnis said. "I don't understand why a lot more people don't use it."

Price of tickets covers fraction of route cost

Riders pay $4 one way to get to their jobs at Generac Power Systems in Whitewater, but in May the total cost for each of those rides was about $40.

The service started April 29, and expenses through December are expected to total about $128,310.

Fares are forecast to generate about $19,248.

Generac and the city of Whitewater chip in $41,058, and the state and federal governments pay $68,004.

The intent is for the federal and state governments to pay about one-half the cost of the service, Generac and Whitewater to pay about one-third and fares to cover the rest, said Dave Mumma, Janesville's transit director.

In May, 402 people rode the Janesville-Milton-Whitewater bus. Mumma estimated at least two-thirds of the riders were Generac employees.

The $128,310 cost for eight months averages to $16,039 per month, meaning the cost for each of the 402 rides in May was about $40. That assumes all riders paid to go to Whitewater from Janesville or from Janesville to Whitewater.

Mumma said the parties would reevaluate the success of the service at the end of the year.

Any shortfall in the amount raised from fares would be made up by Generac and Whitewater, meaning the city of Janesville would not be left with any cost, Mumma said.

To meet the monthly revenue goal of $2,406 from fares, the service would need about 600 rides a month.

Mumma compared the route to the Janesville-Beloit route, which started slowly but now runs every hour.

The Whitewater route schedule, which is intended to match Generac shifts, might be hurting ridership, Mumma said.

If ridership increases, a route could be added with a more typical schedule, but that route would have to find another sponsor, Mumma said.

"We hope over time that we might be able to add additional trips," he said.

When asked why the city couldn't serve six riders with a van instead of a bus, Mumma answered: "Seventy percent of the cost is sitting in the driver's seat."

That cost would be the same whether the driver is driving a bus or a van.

"It's a brand new service, and, like anything that's brand new, it takes a while to ramp up," he said.

"We think we're headed in the right direction," Mumma said. "Anything new is going to have a higher unit cost to start with. We believe and we hope that over time that's going to come down as more people use the service.

Fares eventually should cover 15 percent of the cost, Mumma said. Fares cover about 18 percent of the cost for the popular Beloit-Janesville route, he said.

Public transit is not expected to make money, Mumma said.

Last updated: 8:46 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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