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Senior taxi ridership drops as elderly users pass away; program in search of new passengers

Mike Gorski of Muskego Senior Transport helps Nancy Schultz as he provides a ride to n appointment on Aug. 13.

Mike Gorski of Muskego Senior Transport helps Nancy Schultz as he provides a ride to n appointment on Aug. 13. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Aug. 18, 2014

Muskego — Considering its business plan, a 50 percent drop in Muskego Senior Taxi ridership from its peak two years ago is easily understood.

"The nature of the business is to serve the frail elderly and so many have passed away," said Karin Nickel, taxi executive director.

These days, the volunteer drivers are only wheeling their charges around in two cars instead of three, she said.

"It's been a gradual dropping," Nickel said.

That's worrisome, she said. And so is the drop in donations this year.

"We are in great need for new individuals and businesses to assist in supporting the taxi program," she said. About a third of the taxi's costs come through donations, she said.

To encourage corporate donations of $250 or more, donors will be acknowledged with a new magnetic sign board on the taxi doors.

In the meantime, the taxi folks are trying to get the word out on the service.

The taxi is for any ambulatory resident who is least 65 years old. Younger people with disabilities also are welcome to ride. Destinations are up to the riders.

"We take them grocery shopping, to hair appointments, to visit friends," Nickel said.

It regularly takes one lady to the Potawatomi Casino in Milwaukee. Those trips started as a respite, to give her a break while caring for her ailing husband, Nickel said.

"In his last days, her husband wanted her to continue to go, to have something to look forward to," she said.

But most of the destinations are by far doctor's offices and hospitals.

The senior taxi covers Muskego, New Berlin, Big Bend, Hales Corners, Greendale, Franklin, Waterford, Brookfield, Mukwonago, West Allis, Waukesha, Wauwatosa and Milwaukee.

The fare depends on the destination. Going around Muskego will cost $3.50 one way. A trip to Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa will cost $17.50 one way. Destinations in Milwaukee are the most pricey at $19.50 one way.

The fares might seem high, but a real taxi would be much more, Nickel said. And the volunteer drivers take tender loving care of their passengers, she said.

"They are the most wonderful, warmhearted individuals," she said and most are recent retirees.

Nickel said she hears every week from riders how important the service is.

"It's absolutely integral to my life," said Nancy Schultz, who has ridden the taxi since it started in 2007. She generally goes to Froedtert or to doctor's offices.

Before, Schultz said she was able to depend more on friends and family.

"Then as the economy got worse, they were not available to take time off during the day," she said.

"The change in the economy affected a lot of things like that," she said.

While Schultz has taken the taxi to get groceries, "Today my grandson helped me. Sometimes I order online."

Often, older people don't want to rely all the time on family and friends so as to not wear out their welcomes. Needs especially in the medical area can be relentless. Some riders take medicines requiring them to be tested every week, which can be a burden to families, Nickel said.

Emmy Lou Merner said the senior taxi made her last days with her husband of 63 years better.

"They took me to see my hubby, and they waited for me," she said. She visited every other day and sometimes everyday, and it was only possible because of the taxi and a couple of friends, she said.

"The cab made it possible for me to be with him as often as I could," she said. "When you have a husband of 63 years, you want to touch him as much as you can."

Her nearest child lives in Green Bay. Although he has been a great help to her, he cannot be there every day.

Merner's husband died this year, and she found the taxi was invaluable.

"I had to kind of keep myself together and they took me to Pick 'n Save and to the doctor," she said. "They have been absolutely wonderful."

"They've often said 'take your time, we'll be here for you,' and they are. It means a lot," Merner said. "I can't tell you how comforting it is."

The taxi has been a boon to Mary Cvetan's developmentally-disabled son Patrick, 25, and her for quite a while, Cvetan said. The taxi picks up Patrick at Easter Seals in Waukesha two afternoons a week and takes him to work at Culvers.

Not to have mother ferry him around is huge to her son, Cvetan said.

"He feels he's doing it all by himself," she said. "He loves it."

Relieved of transportation duties those two afternoons, Cvetan can schedule business appointments.

The taxi operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays year-round. A taxi usually takes one passenger at a time, but sometimes doubling up can't be helped, Nickel said. The taxi is housed in donated space in the ProHealth Care Regency Senior Communities-Muskego, W181 S8540 Lodge Blvd.

Those wanting a ride need to set up a shared fare card with Waukesha County's Aging and Disabled Resource Center, (262) 548-7848, that helps the taxi with funding. The setup takes about a week. The taxi also needs registration information at (262) 679-4754.

The taxi is supported by the resource center, by fares, by the city of Muskego, by grants from Waukesha County and by fundraisers and donations from area businesses.

OKTOBERFEST

Oktoberfest is the Muskego Senior Taxi fall fundraiser. It will be held from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17 at ProHealth Care Regency Senior Communities-Muskego, W181 S8540 Lodge Blvd.:

· German dinner — schweinebraten (roast pork), German meatballs with hackbraten (ginger snap gravy), petersilie rote kartoffeln (parsely red potatoes), karotten (baby carrots), knodel (dumplings), rotkohl (red cabbage), sauerkraut, apfel knackig (applecrisp and whipped topping). German beer and wines will be available for purchase.

· Vintage car show

· Drawings

· Tickets $25 available at the Regency and all proceeds to the Muskego Senior Taxi

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