Helping those who need a lift
Low-cost transportation in Waupaca County
By James Card
Waupaca County has a new transport service that has garnered the attention of Gov. Tony Evers.
Other government planners have their eyes on this program as it might be the solution to help people go to work and obtain health care.
Feonix – Mobility Rising, a nonprofit dedicated to providing transportation services, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Waupaca Chamber of Commerce on Thursday, Feb. 2.
Their primary goal is to give rides to people who have trouble getting to their workplace, but also they will give a lift to those who need to get to classes, daycare, doctor visits, after-school programs and other appointments.
Big support, potential
This pilot program is funded through a $3.2 million Workforce Innovation Grant given to Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation.
Feonix was founded in Nebraska and currently has programs in Winnebago County since 2018, two counties in Michigan, one in Columbia, S.C., a state-wide program in Nevada, and programs in Dallas, San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas.
“The Secretary of Transportation, the State Secretary of Workforce, the State Secretary of Economic Development all came together in this building — thank you Terri [Schulz, chamber president] – to talk about the impact of this program,” said Valerie Lefler, the founder and executive director of Feonix.
“It was referenced at the governor’s State of the State address,” she said. “At a national level, folks are looking at this community and this program and how we’re able to increase access to transportation. You know you’re doing something right when the governor mentions it ,” she said.
“We have a technology now for rural transportation that is leaps above what any other rural transportation would have. Our capacity is similar to a city of 250,000,” said Jeff Mikorski, executive director of the Waupaca County Economic Development Corporation.
How it works
“Right now employment rides are our first priority but we have a lot of additional capacity because we’re just getting the service started. We’re taking some people to health care appointments. We just helped get a gentleman to cancer treatment. We’ve taken someone to get groceries. We’re working with select employers and new employers as they request rides. If folks call, and we have capacity, we’re absolutely serving those rides,” said Lefler.
Key employers advocating for the program were Thedacare, Tyson Foods, Waupaca Foundry, Walker Forge, Kolbe & Kolbe Windows and Creative Converting.
If a household income is 250% below the federal poverty line, the person is eligible for 30 days of free rides and later rides are one dollar.
For those above that threshold, rides are $3 per leg of the trip ($6 for round trip). That is the cost regardless of distance driven.
They almost operate around the clock. The earliest pick up IS at 5 a.m. and the latest is 1:30 a.m.
The transport service is set up through a Catch-a-Ride app that can be downloaded from various app stores and QR scans. More information can be found at Feonix.org.
They have five drivers now and will be hiring three more. They are also partnered with local taxi companies and they are onboard with the app service.
Their fleet is composed of assorted SUVs leased through Neuville Motors. They will soon have a mini-van with a lift for giving rides to disabled people.
Feonix leased a home in Weyauwega to use as a base camp for drivers and a place to do training and to take care of maintain and clean vehicles.
The next phase of the program is to acquire electric vehicles and the Weyauwega location will also double as a charging station.