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In depth: How rural areas offer public transit

In depth: How rural areas offer public transit


It took two days for her car to get fixed. In the meantime, Williams discovered that Mauston offered a taxi service. For about $10, she was able to make it to work in the morning.

“I didn’t know what to do, I was stressed out,” Williams said. “I was outside the city, so I didn’t think they’d come get me, but they did and I was able to get a ride home after work with (a coworker).”

For many residents of rural communities, public transit like the Mauston taxi service is a necessity. Whether because of age, disability, or unexpected circumstance, those services allow residents to get to work, shop for groceries, or make it to their doctor appointments.

Taking a taxi

Taxi services in most rural cities is subsidized. This allows the companies to offer far cheaper prices than in larger cities, where a five mile ride could cost upwards of $20. Both Mauston and Reedsburg subsidize their taxi services.

“It is subsidized through the federal government and the state subsidizes it, but the federal government gives the money to the state to subsidize it through the state,” Reedsburg City Administrator Tim Becker said.

Programs like the Federal Formula Grant for Rural Areas are important to keeping the costs of operating taxi systems in less dense areas manageable. According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, “approximately one-half of total annual operating expenses for Wisconsin transit systems are reimbursed through state and federal grants.”

In Mauston, a taxi ride will cost the average customer a $3.75 flat rate, with a $1.50 surcharge per mile for every mile outside the city limits. In Reedsburg, the flat rate is $4.50 within city limits, with a $2 surcharge per mile outside the city limits.

Each city currently has a contract with Running Inc. to provide taxi services. In Reedsburg, the contract lasts for three years, with the option for two additional years on a single year basis. Becker said the taxi adequately serves the needs of the community, without the need for additional public transit options like buses or light rail.

“The ridership would have to increase, or increase so substantially that bus routes would be called for and then we’d probably get together as a county, all the cities would probably petition with the county to get some sort of bus route running,” Becker said. “They haven’t (considered buses), but if they had it would be done more on a county level, Sauk County would be the one to coordinate that and just run a bus service throughout the entire county.”

Running Inc. provides updated to the minute statistics on ridership in each area it services at The statistics shows how many vehicles are on the road in the area at that time and how many rides have been given during the day up to that point. There are handicapped accessible taxis available, and discounts on rides for students, seniors, and children.

To Becker, services like the taxis offer an important function.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t have reliable transportation, specifically lower income people and then senior citizens,” Becker said. “It’s something that is there for them which is affordable, and that they can use to get some more of their mandatory trafficking done, like going to grocery stores or doctor’s appointments. It’s very affordable to them.”

Buses and more

In Sauk County, residents who are disabled or age 60 and over have additional options at their disposal to get to where they need to go. Besides taxis, the Aging and Disability Resource Center’s Transportation Unit manages programs for a shopping bus, day travel excursions, and a volunteer driver escort program.

Available each Thursday, the shopping bus allows residents to go shopping at both local and Madison area stores for a round trip cost of $3. The bus schedule rotates weekly between each stop, either stopping at the Baraboo Walmart, the Lake Delton Walmart, Madison’s West Towne Mall, or Madison’s East Towne Mall.

Once at the scheduled location, the passengers can either get out and shop or request a visit to another stop “within a reasonable radius.” The Aging and Disability Resource Center says their goal is “to give you, our passengers, more control and freedom to choose where you shop.”

While the shopping bus only operates each Thursday, other services are available for passengers who need transportation assistance on a daily basis. For more information or to reserve a spot, call 608-355-3289.

The Terrace Heights Retirement Community offers a similar program in Juneau County. Shopping excursions using the Terrace Heights Bus takes both tenants at the apartment community and members of the public on day trips for shopping.

“Once a month we’ll take the bus to go shopping in Tomah, or Baraboo,” said Jill Finley, Housing Coordinator at Terrace Heights. “And once a month we’ll go shopping at the mall in Eau Claire, La Crosse… it costs $10 and is open to the public.”

For residents who wish to just travel around Mauston, the Terrace Heights bus runs five days a week in town to assist tenants with getting from the apartment community to anything from the grocery store or bank, to a hair appointment.

“Our tenants enjoy having the option to take the bus,” Finley said. “We take close to 100 trips a month, counting each person’s trip.”

Finley says the Terrace Heights bus was obtained with the help of a federal grant. Tenants are charged a $30 per month fee for unlimited uses of the bus, which allows the community to pay for the operating and maintenance costs of the bus. For more information on the Terrace Heights bus, call 608-847-2377.

The Volunteer Driver Escort Service, also managed through the Aging and Disability Resource Center’s Transportation Unit, offers transportation to areas outside the passenger’s town. Sauk County residents who have medical employments, need to get to their place of employment, or have “other trips of necessity,” are able to arrange for transportation with 48 hours of notice at a rate of $0.35 per mile by calling 608-355-3278.

Finley says the Mile Bluff Medical Center, with a hospital in Mauston and additional offices and clinics in Elroy, Necedah, New Lisbon, and Lake Delton, offers two minivans for medical transport for people who need to get to doctor’s appointments.

“Most of the people who use it are residents in nursing homes,” Finley said. “We have one wheel chair van and one ambulatory van… and ideally, the more notice, the better to get transportation. If someone needs to get to Madison for an appointment, that could take up most of the day, so it can be limited.”

Like the bus, the wheelchair van was obtained through use of federal grant money, while the ambulatory van was donated by local businesses with Rudig Jensen heading the donation.

A one way trip using the vans in Mauston will cost about $13, though Finley says transport is available outside of Mauston for an additional per mile fee after the first five miles. Medicaid and Family Care pick up the costs for passengers with those options. For more information on reserving a trip using one of the Mile Bluff Vans, call 608-847-2377.

Tourism and transportation

While public transportation can get residents to wherever they need to go, like the doctor or to work, there are also options for both tourists and residents to get around and have some fun.

In Wisconsin Dells, the Wisconsin Dells Trolley Tours offers not only airport shuttle service and local transportation, but also a gamut of tours.

“We offer 10 to 12 different tours, depending on the time of year, as some are seasonal,” said Dells Trolley owner Jeremy Ringdahl. “Our biggest tour is our City and History tour, so we do an hour to an hour and a half in the Dells; basically they see downtown Dells, Mirror Lake… Timmy’s Mill, we go over the history of the Dells, but we stop at the Wisconsin River, Lake Delton where the breach happened.”

Ringdahl says other popular tours include the Winery Tour, which offers wine tasting at two wineries, lunch at Trapper’s Turn, and stops at Baraboo Bluff and the Baraboo Candy Company, the Ugly Sweater Pub Crawl, the Winter Wonderland Tour, the St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl, and the Dive Bar Pub Crawl.

“We do a lot of transportation as well, if there’s a conference in town and they need to get there we’ll do that,” Ringdahl said. “ It’s not so much a loop or route through the city, it’s more the tours, and then they can hire us, let’s say you have a group of 20 or 30 people and you need to get to dinner, or we get families who take us to the Tommy Bartlett Show, it’s a great option instead of taking ten taxis.”

Prices for the tours vary, with the City and History Tour costing $20 while the Wine Tour costs $65, which includes lunch, tastings, and chocolates. Discounts are available for children, seniors, and both J1 and university students. The trolley can hold between 27 and 34 passengers, though the company also offers hourly bus rentals which hold either 17 or 24 passengers.

“The comment I get all the time is, even if they didn’t take it for their first day, ‘I wish we would have taken this right away’ because it gives them a really good overview and layout of the Dells,” Ringdahl said. “They see the restaurants they want to go to… we point out different attractions, and it really familiarizes people about our area so they know exactly what they want to do. You can’t always rely on the internet for that, so they see it first hand, and we take them to places they might not find on their own.”

The Dells Trolley leaves from Bobber’s Island Grill, but also offers hotel pick up and drop off. Learn more or book a tour at

Both the Terrace Heights bus in Juneau County and the Aging and Disability Resource Center’s Transportation Unit in Sauk County also offer day trips for fun filled excursions.

The Sauk County upcoming trips include a trip to the Sun Prairie Cinema, lunch at Sauk City Family Restaurant, and a Wisconsin Historical Museum and Wisconsin Capitol Building self-guided tour. The trips are designed for seniors and those with disabilities, and cost $5 for round trip fare. Any admission prices or meals are extra. For more information, call 608-355-4888.

The Terrace Heights bus offers similar trips, with options including visits to the Palace Theater in Wisconsin Dells, cranberry bogs, and the Big Cat Rescue.

“We offer a bunch of trips if something sounds exciting,” Finley said. “The bus is a good, flexible and secure option, where you know and trust the people giving you the ride.”

For more information on Juneau County day trips, read the Mile Bluff Newsletter or call 608-847-2377.

Reach Christopher Jardine on Twitter @ChrisJJardine or contact him at 608-432-6591.

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