WEST SALEM, Wis. – The chauffeur pulled up to Sheila Larson’s door on a recent morning. He hopped to open the door for her, had some kind words for her three-year-old, Zach, and when they were comfortably situated, carefully pulled away from the curb in the heated vehicle. Larson had planned some errands including going to the bank and dropping Zach at daycare.
The driver wheeled the vehicle through Onalaska, helped Larson complete her rounds, then he hurried her to work at her job in Holmen.
The attentive chauffeur was Jeff Lezotte. He was not dressed in livery nor was he operating a limo. Larson’s ride and Lezotte’s vehicle were part of the fleet of the Onalaska/Holmen/West Salem Public Transit, also known as “shared ride.”
The shared ride system is becoming a hit in the communities it serves, racking up large ridership figures. In October, the most recent month for which figures were available, there were more than 5,000 rides. Through October the shared ride system provided more than 47,000 rides this year, according to system operator Richard Running.
The first year for shared ride, 1999, there were 11,000 rides for the entire year, Running said. That was when the program was only in Onalaska. Current demand is so high, Running is adding one more vehicle for all shifts starting the first of the year. There will be eight vehicles serving the program starting in January.
The Onalaska/Holmen/ West Salem Public Transit runs from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily with its on-demand service. It is like a taxi. Customers like Sheila Larson call 784-0000 to schedule a pick-up and if someone nearby also calls, the van will stop for them, too. “We pick you up and take you where you want to go,” Running said.
Running operates similar services in the village of Bangor and in the town of Holland.
Fares run from $2 for senior citizens in off-hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and holidays) to $3.25 for adults. The student and senior citizen fare is $2.75. That’s for a ride that could start at Old Highway 93 on Holmen’s northern edge and go all the way to Southern Bluff Elementary on La Crosse’s far south side.
The service is underwritten by the communities it serves, as well as state and federal governments. Organizations such as Gundersen Lutheran and Franciscan Skemp Healthcare underwrite specific rides as does the county aging unit for senior citizens to travel to nutrition sites.
Holmen Village President John Chapman is an ardent supporter of shared ride. “When I campaigned (for village president) residents told me they didn’t have good transportation,” Chapman recalled. “This has been nothing but a success.”
Onalaska Mayor Mike Giese also heard from his constituents about the need for good public transportation. “Shared ride is the item I hear most often praised,” Giese said. “It meets a real need.”
Shared ride is not allowed to take riders further into La Crosse than a transfer point with the MTU. Riders may transfer to the MTU at no additional cost.
There is an exception for those going to, or coming from, medical centers in La Crosse.
“We take a lot of people to work and it gives seniors and disabled persons a dependable and affordable way to get around,” Running said. “It is a pretty big deal for a lot of people.”
Source: West Salem Coulee News