Veterans will have improved access to public transportation with the implementation of a new program proposed by county officials.

The Vets Ride with Pride program will work in conjunction with Madison Metro Transit to provide transit passes to Dane County veterans, according to Dane County spokesperson Carrie Springer. The Dane County Veterans Service Office will issue the passes, she said.

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi and County Supervisor Erika Hotchkiss introduced the proposal because they saw a need in the community for this kind of program, Springer said.

Hotchkiss works at the William S. Middleton Memorial Hospital, Springer said. Hotchkiss noticed a recurring trend among disabled veterans regarding public transportation, she said, saying she saw disabled veterans experienced difficulty getting to the services they needed when they returned from duty.

According to the statement from Parisi, the bus vouchers will make it easier for disabled veterans to access appointments, housing, employment and education. The vouchers will also allow independence for veterans over their own transportation needs, the statement said.

Madison Metro runs similar programs to Vets Ride with Pride, according to Springer. They already have the technology in place to implement this new program, she said.

Springer said only certain veterans qualify for the transit passes. Veterans who receive service-connected disability compensation or non-service-connected disability pension will be eligible for the program, she said.

The veterans who qualify will be issued a Vets Ride with Pride card good for rides on all Madison Metro buses until the end of the year, Springer said. It is a swipe card similar to what University of Wisconsin students currently use, she said.

Funding for the program was included in the 2013 county budget by Parisi, according to the Dane County statement. Additional funding for the program comes from a private donation, the statement said.

The Vets Ride with Pride program was one of several initiatives included in the budget to help returning veterans in the county, the statement said. 

According to Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, it is a good thing anytime the county and the city are able to provide additional resources to the disabled, veterans or other individuals in the community.

Resnick explained city and county budgets often have constraints, and other bus-related programs are often the ones to get cut. He said he was glad to see donations supporting the program.

Springer added many people believe the new program is a service the community owes to their veterans.

“We need to help our veterans return back to the lives they left behind when they left to serve us,” Springer said. “We need to help them get to the services they need so they can transition back into their lives.”

According to Springer, the next step for the program is approval by the Dane County Board of Supervisors. Additionally, she said the county needs to work out a few things with Madison Metro.

The program will be finalized over the next couple of weeks and implemented by the end of the month, Springer said.

“I think [Vets Ride with Pride] is a great idea,” Resnick said. “I’m glad the county board was able to work with Madison Metro to make this a reality.”