Transit Commission lukewarm on expanding shared-ride taxi boundaries

This map shows the current boundaries of the City of Sun Prairie shared-ride taxi service. The Sun Prairie Area School District asked for an expansion to find a cheaper way to transport a dozen kids who moved out of the district boundaries or are homeless but are still students in Sun Prairie schools, according to City Planner Philip Gritzmacher Jr., who received the SPASD’s request.

The Transit Commission gave the Sun Prairie Area School District’s request to expand the city’s shared-ride taxi to serve students outside the district a yellow light last week, saying it could negatively impact other route users.

The SPASD asked for the expansion to find a cheaper way to transport a dozen kids who moved out of the district boundaries or are homeless but are still students in Sun Prairie schools, according to City Planner Philip Gritzmacher Jr., who received the district’s request.

Transit Commission members gave a lukewarm reception to the expansion at their June 24 meeting, citing the impact it would have on other riders.

Gritzmacher said it may not be feasible to expand the service because of federal transportation funding sources and current transportation contracts.

The shared-ride taxi service provides coverage east of the interstate to areas within three miles of the Sun Prairie city limits.

Some Transit Commission members said if the school district’s request was approved and the expansion would go through, it could shift district’s transportation costs to the city, which subsidizes the shared-ride taxi service. The SPASD’s costs for transporting students out of district boundaries were not provided during the commission meeting.

Former District 4 Alder and current commissioner Al Guyant supported help for the out-of-district-boundary students and gave the district points for trying to save money. But based on past experiences, Guyant said expanding the shared-ride taxi boundaries could be “dicey.”

Others said an expansion would cause delays for other riders during peak times in the morning and afternoon. Students who live in the district also use and pay for fares within the city.

Transit commission member Melody Riedel, the Colonial Club’s Director of Operations and Services, said seniors and elderly who rely on the service have already had to shift their appointments during the school year to avoid the shared-ride taxi service’s busiest morning and afternoon routes when kids use it to get to school.

Riedel said an emphasis should be on users within the city’s service boundaries and advised other transit commissioners to look at the request more closely.

“We need to be cautious of where we go on this,” Riedel said at last week’s meeting.

The commission is expected to review the request again at a future meeting.

The City of Sun Prairie’s shared-ride taxi service returned to normal operations last month after being curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions.

Passengers are still required to wear masks under federal public transportation health orders but can travel with non-family members now.

The shared ride service saw a dip in ridership during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic as schools moved to remote learning options and events and other activities were canceled. There has been a bump in youth and adult ridership this year.

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