Innovation Express bus route likely to continue in '13
WHITEWATER Despite criticism from two members of the Whitewater City Council, the Janesville-Milton-Whitewater bus route will continue in 2013, if a state-federal grant is approved.
"I am told the grant application has cleared the Department of Transportation and is on the governor's desk," said Dave Mumma, Janesville transportation director. "I'm told the grant will be awarded, but it's not a done deal yet."
The bus route, called Innovation Express, was created earlier this year at the urging of Generac in Whitewater. The portable power generation company needed public transportation for additional workers it hired from the surrounding area. Generac, Whitewater and UW-Whitewater paid sponsor fees for the service. Milton did not contribute, although buses stop there.
When it came time to budget for 2013, Mumma secured sponsor fees from Generac, Whitewater, UW-Whitewater and Milton. A Supplemental Transportation Rural Assistance Program grant will cover most of the 2013 costs including expansion of the route and additional runs.
"For 2012, Janesville's contribution included state and federal money the Janesville Transit System received that was earmarked for the Innovation Express route," Mumma said. "The STRAP grant will cover those costs and more to allow for expansion."
The STRAP grant application was for $245,100.
Buses now leave Janesville weekdays at 5 a.m., 1 p.m. and 9 p.m. to accommodate the three Generac shifts. With the STRAP grant, the service will include two additional weekday runs—one between 5 a.m. and 1 p.m. and the other between 1 p.m. and 9 p.m.—and additional runs on Saturday and Sunday.
One problem with the 5 a.m. departure from Janesville is that no other buses are running. Riders have to find a way to get to the bus stops downtown, at Janesville Mall and at Wal-Mart. The STRAP grant will allow for an early feeder route, perhaps from Janesville's south side, Mumma said.
"The expanded route will address concerns we've heard about providing more service to students and others who want to travel for reasons other than employment at Generac," Mumma said. "While we can't meet all needs, this will provide the service to more people."
No fare increase is planned. One-way cash fares are $1.90 Janesville to Milton, $4 Janesville to Whitewater and $2.50 Milton to Whitewater. Passes are available that provide 10 trips for the price of nine.
For 2013, Generac is contributing $26,000, Milton $15,000 and Whitewater and UW-Whitewater $10,000 each.
Mumma projects fares will meet 15 percent of the program's cost. If fares fall short, the sponsors make up the difference.
Whitewater City Council President Patrick Singer is a vocal opponent of the program.
"With all the fiscal challenges facing the city, I do not believe this bus service is a high enough priority," Springer said. "We keep using the fund balance to meet expenses. In an effort to build that balance back up to 20 percent and provide an adequate building repair fund, for example, I just don't think the bus service should be funded. There's just not enough money left."
Joining Singer in voting against Whitewater's $10,000 expenditure was council member Stephanie Abbott, whose district includes the UW-Whitewater campus.
"When we voted, it was not known how much Generac would provide in 2013 or if the STRAP grant would be approved," Abbott said. "We still don't know for sure about the grant. There were too many contingencies."
Abbott, as a member of the UW-Whitewater Student Senate in 2009, voted against using student fees for the bus line.
"I'm still not sure how beneficial this is to the city and the students," she said. "It's great for Generac, and that's important, but I'm not convinced it's a great deal for the city or the campus."