More people than ever are calling Ozaukee County’s shared-ride taxi service, many of them depending on it for rides to and from work
As the flash from his camera fired away, Ozaukee Press photographer Sam Arendt could tell Liz Wedereit was nervous, so he told her to think of something that makes her smile.
“I love my job,” she said.
Out came a genuine smile that lit up a dreary spring morning at the Ozaukee County Transit Center in Port Washington.
Wedereit is a seven-year taxi driver for the county’s shared-ride taxi service.
“I enjoy both the people that work here and the customers we pick up,” Wedereit said. “It gets to be one big family.”
Wedereit usually works the weekday shift from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., driving clients who need a ride to work or doctor appointments, usually in one of the minivans or small buses in the county fleet.
“We have a lot of clients who are regular riders,” she said. “Some
book weeks and months in advance, while others have standing orders that go on forever until they tell us something has changed.”
The county’s taxi service is booming, in part because Hometown Taxi Service in Port Washington went out of business recently.
Wedereit said one day last month the shared-ride taxi provided more than 500 rides.
“It’s gotten pretty hectic lately, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing,” Wedereit, who became a full-time employee in October, said. “I’ve driven people as young as 6 and as old as 90.”
Her route changes daily, but she sees a lot of the same clients and has built “wonderful” relationships with them.
“I look forward to driving a lot of them because they have interesting stories to tell and they share things about what’s happening in their lives,” Wedereit said. “When they share so much, they become more than just someone who rides the taxi. They start to become more of a friend.”
Every morning, Wedereit comes in around 5 a.m. She already has her routes for the day loaded into the computer system. A GPS helps direct her, but she is familiar with the majority of streets and highways in the county.
“I’m very familiar with the county, so there really aren’t any strange places I have to go,” she said. “So many of the clients are the same all the time, so you just know where they live and where they’re going.”
Wedereit, who lives in Saukville and previously was a teacher in the Northern Ozaukee School District, said the busiest times of the day are between 6 and 8 a.m. when riders need to get to work and at the end of the day when they need to be picked up.
The taxi service runs from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Fees for a ride depend on how many “zones” riders travel through. For example, an adult pays $3 to travel one way from Port Washington to Saukville or $4 to go from Belgium to Grafton.
“The ridership really has skyrocketed, and it was a bit of a crunch for a while until we could get some new drivers hired,” Wedereit said. “There are still some days when we’re really hauling to get the clients where they need to go on time.
“It really depends on what day it is and how many riders we have.”
The shared-ride taxi service recommends calling 24 hours in advance of a planned trip and the service can’t always accommodate same-day pickups with its fleet of 23 cars, buses and minivans.
She said if one driver is running behind and needs another driver to pick up a client on their route, someone is always willing to fill in.
“All of the drivers are really incredible and work together to help one another out when the day is hectic,” Wedereit said.
Before she was promoted to full time, Wedereit worked weekends and summer hours.
She said the clientele is different on the weekends than during the week.
“There are obviously a lot of people who go to church on Sundays, and people like to get their shopping done on Saturdays,” Wedereit said.
The most rewarding part of the job, Wedereit said, is being able to do what she loves and help people get where they need to be.
“I’ve always loved driving, and this job gives me a purpose,” she said. “People have told me they think all the drivers are very nice and that we have a good group of drivers.
“I have people tell me all the time how grateful they are for the service we provide, because if it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t be able to get anywhere.”
For more information, or to schedule a ride, call 284-8294 or visit www.ozaukeetransit.com.
Image information: COMMON GROUND MEMBER Don Niederfrank (left) and County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt were among the 57 people who attended a celebration Sunday at the Ozaukee County Transit Center in Port Washington marking the extension of shared-ride taxi hours on Sundays. Niederfrank, who is also a member of First Congregational Church in Port Washington, was among those who worked with the county to extend the hours to serve riders who rely on the taxi to get to and from church and work on Sundays. Photo by Sam Arendt