'This is going to be disruptive to a lot of people.' Valley Transit weighs service cutbacks (2024)

'This is going to be disruptive to a lot of people.' Valley Transit weighs service cutbacks (1)

APPLETON —Ron McDonald has been general manager of Valley Transit for eight years, and in that time, he said he has had a full complement of bus drivers "for about 15 minutes."

Currently, only 17 of the 36 full-time driver positions are filled.

McDonald said Valley Transit's inability to find qualified drivers is the primary reason it has proposed to end fixed-route buses after 6 p.m. on weekdays and after 1 p.m. on Saturdays and instead rely onVT Connector, an on-demand micro transitservice, to provide rides for the remainder of each day.

Valley Transit buses currently run to 9:45 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays.

"This is going to be disruptive to a lot of people," McDonald said at a public hearing on the proposed changes. "We're trying to figure out how to get through it with the least pain as possible."

Under the proposal, VT Connector would become the primary mode of public transportation during the off-peakhours. VT Connector is a shared-ride service that is provided by a contractor using wheelchair-accessible vans. It requires passengers to schedule their rides at least twohoursin advance.

The cost to the rider would be $2 for a one-way trip.

"If you're at a musical festival, it will pick you up and take you home, if the buses are not running," McDonald said.

Valley Transit pays $36 for a trip, so the $2 fare is a small offset.

The Fox Cities Transit Commission will vote on the proposal Tuesday. If approved, the changes would take effect in mid-July.

Who is eligible to use VT Connector?

Everyone. There is no certification required for VT Connector.

Trips, though, must be scheduled at least two hours in advance. The reservation number is 920-832-5789 or1-877-444-6543.

Representatives of World Relief Fox Valley, a refugee resettlement agency, expressed concern that the scheduling of VT Connector rides could be problematic for people whose primary language isn't English.

'This is going to be disruptive to a lot of people.' Valley Transit weighs service cutbacks (2)

How will the changes affect bus ridership?

Valley Transit estimates that 90% of the bus ridership would remain under the new schedule.

Will Valley Transit reduce bus fares, given the reduced hours of service?

McDonald said there is no plan to reduce Valley Transit bus fares.

The $2 charge for VT Connector is a separate fee and not covered by a bus pass.

What hardships would the changes cause?

During the public hearing, Valley Transit riders said the reduction in bus service hours would affect their work schedules, shopping and entertainment.

"Putting an end to services, like a finish time, is like putting a cap on socialization," Appleton resident Mary Goldsmith said.

Using VT Connector also would be a financial burden, riders said, because the cost is in addition to a bus pass.

McDonald said Valley Transit recognizes the VT Connector fare could be a hardship for some people. "That's why we reduced it to $2," he said. "The Connector is up to $6 for trips right now."

How did Valley Transit end up in this predicament?

McDonald said Valley Transit had an aging workforce when he arrived, and many bus drivers since have chosen to retire.

"We're looking at making these changes because we don't have enough drivers on staff right now to continually sustain safe operations," he said.

'This is going to be disruptive to a lot of people.' Valley Transit weighs service cutbacks (3)

The reduction in bus hours, McDonald said, might increase the number of applicants because drivers wouldn't have to work evenings.

Also at play is the expectation that the Federal Transit Administration soon will hand down regulations limiting the number of hours a bus driver can operate in a day.

"We're transporting passengers, and that's a pretty serious business," McDonald said. "We can't lower our standards for the type of employees that come in and operate a vehicle. We do preemployment physicals. We do drug screening on people."

Rahsaan Dunn, representing Fox Valley Technical College, encouraged Valley Transit to partner with the college's commercial driver's license (CDL) program to increase the supply of qualified bus drivers.

Will VT Connector be able to handle the additional demand?

Jamie Forler of Little Chute questioned whether VT Connector would be adequately staffed, given the challenges Valley Transit is facing, to handle the additional demand for rides from workers, some of whom have special needs.

VT Connector operates with "a different caliber of driver" than Valley Transit, McDonald said. "They're not CDL holders. They don't operate under the same requirements as we require because of the size of the vehicle and such. They have a different pool of individuals that can work for them that we can't tap into."

Valley Transit operates18 fixed routes in the Fox Cities, as well as several school-year routes and paratransit and demand-response services. Its service area covers 117 square miles and a population of more than 215,000.

Contact Duke Behnke at 920-993-7176 ordbehnke@gannett.com.Follow him on Twitter at@DukeBehnke.

'This is going to be disruptive to a lot of people.' Valley Transit weighs service cutbacks (2024)
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