Dunn County Responds to Riders, Revamps Transit

Dunn County Responds to Riders, Revamps Transit

“We are working hard to improve ridership and do more with less,”

Route changes to the two main Dunn County Transit routes have brought flocks of riders to the buses, transit officials recently told the County Board of Supervisors. 

“We are working hard to improve ridership and do more with less,” said Dunn County Transit Manager Austin Witt.  “Our ridership is the best it has ever been.” 

Dunn County Transit essentially provides three services or routes: a route serves the north and south ends of the UW-Stout campus; a community route winds through town; and riders also can choose an on-demand doorstop service. Dunn County partners with the county Aging and Disability Resource Center to provide an on-demand ride service as well, giving all county residents ridership options.

Witt said that although all transit service workers are county employees, no county tax levy is used to support the transit service, which is funded through a mix of fare revenue, and Federal Transit Administration, state Department of Transportation, city of Menomonie and UW-Stout student fee  subsidies. 

“The county doesn’t pay any property tax levy towards transit,” Witt said. It benefits the county to run the transit service, he said, because it then can provide the Doorstop service outside the Menomonie city limits. 

“We can provide the Doorstop service even 10 to 15 miles out of town” because Dunn County is in charge of the transit service, Witt added. 

In addition, the volunteer driver program that Dunn County Transit and the county Aging and Disability Resource Center provides is able to take residents “in a much wider radius,” Witt said, including to Eau Claire, if a volunteer driver is available. 

In 2022-23, the Stout route provided a total of 109,101 rides throughout the academic year.  The route had 46,334 riders during the fall term, about 3,000 riders fewer than in fall 2022-23, but officials cautioned the weather this year was better than a year ago. 

The Community route ridership experienced substantial growth in 2023: On Monday-Friday, there were a total of 13,750 riders, compared with 8,476 a year ago, an increase of 62 percent.  The Saturday Community route ridership increased to 662 in 2023, compared with 365 the year before, an increase of 81 percent. 

“We had very warm fall,” Witt said. “Even with that we had best year ever for community ridership and Saturday community ridership.” 

Ridership used to be so bad on the Community route, Witt said, that it was more efficient to provide the rides free because it cost more to count the fares than what the fares brought in.  Some stops were eliminated, and the entire route can be traveled in one hour, giving riders a better idea of when to catch the bus, he said. 

“The route was very hard to follow even for us who worked here,” Witt said.  “We’ve made it simple.” 

The Doorstop route operates 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Fridays. Passengers call (715) 235-7433 to schedule pickup times at least two hours prior to the appointment time. The fare is $4, and doorstop rides outside of Menomonie are $7.  In 2023, Witt said, the Doorstop service provided 5,993 rides. 

“We are making improvements all the time to our services to reduce complaints and increase ridership,” Witt said. 

For example, riders on the Stout route wanted it extended to the Wal-Mart area in north Menomonie, so the evening schedule was changed to allow one of the Stout buses to run to the north Menomonie area once an hour. 

“That is being used heavily,” Witt said of the altered route.  “That has been a huge improvement.” 

“Stout student feedback had consistently shown a desire for an evening route to the north Menomonie business and retailers,” said Darrin Witucki, adviser to the UW-Stout Student Association, which allocates student fees to support the transit service. 

Witucki, who also serves on the transit commission, complimented Witt for this creativity in “seeing an opportunity to make the evening Stout Route a hybrid route.  Now in that 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. timeframe the route is doing double-duty, providing four loops to north Menomonie while still providing eight loops on the traditional Stout Route. 

“It’s a win for students, a win for the businesses, and a win for Dunn County Transit, as it was an expense neutral change.” 

The Doorstop service is intended to reach out into parts of the county not served by the two dedicated bus routes, Witt said, adding, “My policy is, we will pick somebody if schedule allows it.”   Riders are frequently picked up in places like Red Cedar Township, Wheeler and Downsville, he added. 

The buses are equipped with handicap lifts, and the service is valuable for riders who need groceries or have medical appointments.  “As long as the schedule allows it, we do it,” he added. 

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