Shared-ride taxi rates to rise

By JAMES KATES / The Capstone

Rates for Whitewater’s Shared Ride Taxi Service are going up, but social-service agencies, not individuals, will shoulder most of the financial burden.

The Whitewater Common Council on Tuesday approved a package that will boost fares booked by agencies to $9.50, from the current $6.50. In addition, a discount that formerly set prepaid agency fares at $5.85 will be eliminated.

Package fares will more than double, to $9.50, out-of-town miles will be billed at $2.25, up from $2, and wait time charges will double from 20 cents per minute to 40 cents.

Rides in the program are provided by Brown Cab Service Inc. of Fort Atkinson with funding from the state and federal governments along with fares. The City of Whitewater makes up any remaining shortfall.

City Finance Director Steve Hatton told the council that the fare increases will raise an extra $8,000 this year, but a hole of about $30,000 still will have to be plugged by the city.

Hatton noted that ridership has been declining since 2012. The service provided 24,806 rides in 2018.

Councilmember Lynn Binnie said city spending on the program was a worthy investment, as Whitewater has no bus service and many people without cars have no other way to get around.

“This really is one of the most important services we provide our citizens,” Binnie said.

In a public hearing before the vote, Whitewater resident Brienne Brown said she had heard about wheelchair users facing long wait times or no service at all during the dinner hour.

Karl Schulte, general manager of Brown Cab, noted that rides might be delayed during “peak periods,” especially on Monday through Wednesday nights when UW-Whitewater in not in session. Service ends at 7 o’clock on those nights, but the company does its best to accommodate everyone, and all its vehicles are wheelchair accessible, he said.

Clapper in Madison

In other business, City Manager Cameron Clapper briefed the council on a lobbying visit to the state Capitol he was set to make Wednesday as part of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities meeting.

Municipal managers from around the state were descending on state lawmakers’ offices to make the case for better funding and more legal flexibility as the 2019-2020 biennial budget process gets under way.

Gov. Tony Evers is set to release his proposed two-year budget next week, and lawmakers hope to approve the spending plan by the end of June.

Municipalities want more state shared revenue to ease the reliance on property taxes. They also are seeking the restoration of certain “home rule” powers that have been eroded by legislation in recent years. For example, local communities want to be able to condemn property for bike and pedestrian paths, and impose residency requirements on municipal employees, if they wish.

Local government managers also want greater authority to exceed state-imposed limits on property-tax increases for some purposes, such as hiring new police officers.

Clapper said the city has a good working relationship with the legislators who represent the city, Sen. Janis Ringhand and Rep. Don Vruwink, both Democrats. Reconstruction of U.S. Highway 12 tops the agenda for issues directly affecting the Whitewater area, Clapper added.

In his report to the council Tuesday, Clapper also noted:

  • The city has a number of job openings, including seasonal positions in parks and recreation. Information is on the city Web site,
  • A number of city commissions and committees have openings for citizen volunteers, including the Urban Forestry Commission and the Birge Fountain Committee. Details are on the city Web site.
  • Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting was not transmitted live as usual on Channel 990, due to technical problems. It was recorded and will be available on the city Web site.
  • The city is forming a communications committee to keep residents informed about Milwaukee Street reconstruction and welcomes volunteers for the panel.