Coronavirus cripples county bus service, delays merger

Ozaukee Express continues to idle, taxi shows signs of life after 60% ridership drop
Ozaukee Press staff

The Covid-19 outbreak has struck a crippling blow to Ozaukee County’s commuter bus service, which was already losing ridership before the pandemic struck, county officials said last week.

In addition, repercussions from dealing with the disease and new membership on the county’s oversight committee further complicates the proposed merger of Ozaukee and Washington counties’ shared-ride taxi service.

“The pandemic has fundamentally changed transit services” as more employees have become used to working from home,  County Administrator Jason Dzwinel told the Public Works Committee last week.

Demand for transit services for the elderly and those who require medical transport will likely remain the same, he said.

“But I suspect there will be an impact on transit for employment services. What it will look like in a year or two is hard to say,” he said. 

The county’s freeway commuter bus, the Ozaukee Express, stopped operating earlier this year when the emergency struck. 

Express ridership has dropped 45% from 2012 when annual ridership hit a high of 93,576.

Officials blamed the thriving economy and stable gas prices for the decline.

As ridership falls, the cost of the service to county taxpayers goes up, rising 79% since 2010 to $1.34 million last year.

“For every drop in ridership, the levy will go up,” Public Works Director Jon Edgren told the committee.

The county’s shared-ride taxi service has continued to operate with reduced staff, county Transit Superintendent Joy Neilson-Loomis said.

Ridership on the taxis dropped more than 60% but is starting to go back up, she said.

Vehicles are cleaned daily and drivers disinfect high-touch points as needed. Drivers also wear masks and gloves, and passengers are encouraged to wear masks.

Rides were limited to essential services — medical visits, food and employment — but those restrictions have been lifted. 

The taxis are still not allowed to transport people who have tested positive for the virus or are presumed to be positive.

A proposal to merge Ozaukee and Washington counties’ taxi services had been put on hold by the committee earlier this year due to “lingering concerns” over costs and logistical details.

Since the April 7 election, four of the committee’s five members are new and need to be brought up to speed on the issues involved.

If a merger were to take place next year, federal funding would have to be applied for this summer.

Merging the two systems would necessitate the creation of an independent transit commission.



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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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