SD: Aberdeen's Ride Line Service Important to Users of All Ages

Sept. 01--Without Ride Line, Nicole Weisser and her husband would have to rearrange their schedules to get their two children to school on time.

Weisser operates a day care and her husband leaves for work before 7 a.m. They live about a half-dozen blocks from Simmons Elementary School, but the trek takes her children across South Fifth Street. She confesses that's a route she's a little nervous having her children walk.

Having Ride Line as an option provides a routine time for pick-up before school and drop-off after school and a safer option.

"They really like it," Weisser said. "The driver is fun. He jokes with them."

Brendyn and Kiera Weisser are in second and fifth grade respectively.

"We're monkey one and monkey two," Kiera said.

"He always says funny stuff," Brendyn said of the driver who picks them up in the morning.

Weisser credits the driver's sense of humor as key to making it an easy transition to the bus system following the death of her grandfather, who was their ride back and forth to school.

Weisser said it was her grandfather who suggested Ride Line as a transportation option for her day care three years ago. Before that, she said, she thought Ride Line was mostly a transportation option for people who are elderly or disabled.

"Having the option to transport kids is wonderful," Weisser said.

Statistics from Ride Line show youth ridership rises above the elderly and disabled riders combined. According to the latest statistics, Ride Line serves more than 70,000 customers in Aberdeen. Of those passengers, 22 percent are elderly, 10 percent have a disability and 44 percent are youth.

Transportation Director Cody Roggatz said the Weissers' two children are among 32 elementary through high school students who are using Ride Line this fall. Additionally, Ride Line handles transportation for Head Start, which uses another two buses each day.

Roggatz said youth use Ride Line to get to school and various youth programs. Nicole Weisser said she and a few other local day cares also use Ride Line for daytime field trips to Wylie Park and the Brown County Fair.

"They help me harness the car seats and the baby car seats," said Weisser, explaining that the car seats stay on the bus, and, when the driver returns, they're harnessed in place and ready for the kids.

"They're very flexible," she said. "A couple times the weather has gone severe, and we needed a ride sooner."

Flexible fleet

At any given time, there are more than 10 Ride Line buses or vans picking up passengers in Aberdeen. Roggatz said, once school started, bus routes were adjusted to maximize efficiency and accommodate a 50 percent growth in school-age passengers.

"We're looking at optimal routes to get the best efficiency," Roggatz said.

Within Ride Line, there's no exclusive route for school-age children. A mix of adults, children and disabled ride at any given time.

Godsend for some

Herb Forkel, one of the many elderly passengers who uses Ride Line, said the bus system has been a godsend for the past 21 months. That's when he started physical therapy after a bout with West Nile virus that turned into French polio. The disease left him without the use of his body from the waist down.

"I've come a long ways, but I still have a ways to go," Forkel said of his recovery.

Forkel said the recovery alone has been tough because he was pretty active prior to contracting West Nile virus.

"Ride Line's been kind of a godsend," he said.

Forkel said, without Ride Line, he'd be stuck without transportation. About eight months ago, Forkel and his wife, Kathy, started using a handicap accessible van, which was loaned to them by a friend. It's given him a way to attend church and other weekend events, but he's been impressed with Ride Line.

"The drivers are all safety-conscious," he said. "You don't have to worry about not getting there."

Prior to contracting West Nile virus, Forkel didn't know much about Ride Line, but he's now quick to mention it.

"Without something like Ride Line, it would be very difficult for someone," Forkel said.

Roggatz said he's hoping two of Ride Line's buses can be replaced this year. A grant has been submitted through the Department of Transportation. From what he's been told, this is the first time in three years DOT grant funds have been available for bus purchases.

Follow @ElisaSand_aan on Twitter

About Ride Line

-- Ride Line has provided on-demand bus service in Aberdeen since 1999. It grew from a bus service in place exclusively for the Aberdeen Area Senior Center.

-- The Ride Line office is at 205 N. Fourth St.

-- Passengers are asked to schedule rides the day prior.

-- Cost is $2 for a one-way ride.

-- Rides are available Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

-- A daily bus ride to Summit is available Monday through Friday to allow for connections with Jefferson Lines.

Copyright 2014 - American News, Aberdeen, S.D.