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  • 17 Jul 2023 7:29 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    A Madison Metro bus pulls up to a bus shelter.

    Sunday morning Brian Skinner was making his first trip on Madison’s newly redesigned bus system from his Middleton home to downtown Madison. He picked up the R2 on its brief stretch going east along University Avenue. But the R2 route in that direction quickly takes a northern tack, reaches the end of its route, makes a loop, and comes back through Middleton before ultimately heading east on Old Sauk Road toward downtown.

    “I stood on the wrong side of the street,” Skinner tells Isthmus the following afternoon while he waits for a bus outside the Hamel Music Center on University Avenue. “If I stood on the right side of the street it wouldn’t have gone all the hell through Middleton,” he adds. “I know that now.”

    Skinner says he got help on Sunday from a “ride guide” when he transferred buses at the west-side American Red Cross on Sheboygan Avenue. The ride guide, one of about 50 customer service staff the city hired to help Madisonians navigate the new system, explained to a still confused Skinner what had happened and pointed out where to stand next time. On weekdays, Skinner can now take the R2 bus from his home near the Willy Street Co-Op West more directly to the UW Memorial Union, where he swims, compared to the winding 70 and 72 routes which he used to take. More direct service and reduced travel times were a goal of the redesign.

    Despite the rocky start, Skinner was enthusiastic Monday about the new routes. “It’s a very efficient system, I have no complaints,” he says. “It seems to be working really well.”

    The ride guides who helped Skinner were part of an outreach campaign put together by city officials ahead of the new system’s launch Sunday; the city held community engagement meetings throughout the city and distributed posters and other signage at stops urging riders to plan their new trips ahead of time. Proponents of the redesign, the largest change to the city’s bus system since the implementation of transfer points in 1998, say it will include more frequent service along main thoroughfares, reducing travel times and transfers (three of the system’s four transfer points have been eliminated). The trade-off is expected to be some longer walks for riders and fewer routes going into neighborhoods.

    This reporter rode the new bus system widely over its first two days of operation, talking to riders and ride guides on buses and at key stops in every part of the city. For some riders, the transition was smooth. For others, there was frustration and delay. For most, it was simply an adjustment that required a bit of help.

    For Shelby Beltzer, the elimination of transfer points threw her off at first. But by Sunday afternoon, she was exploring the new system on a west-side A bus traveling along Mineral Point Road and helping other riders find their way.

    “I [moved] here in December so I just got used to the number system,” says Beltzer, who sometimes just likes riding the buses to explore the city or visit East Towne and West Towne malls. “I’m a wanderer,” she says. Now, the A goes directly between the two malls without stops at transfer points. “It hasn’t been inconvenient for me at all,” she says.

    That wasn’t the case for a rider Beltzer was helping, who said she had been trying to get back to Middleton for more than two hours before hopping off quickly to catch an R1 bus headed north on High Point Road.

    Many riders in the first days of the system’s launch were tentative as they boarded the bus. “Is this the 6?” one rider asked Sunday afternoon when getting on a bus at the East Washington Avenue overpass at Marquette Street. “This is the A,” the driver responded. “It’s not the 6? Do you go to Festival [Foods]?” “Yes I do.” Some passengers had more extensive questions, and drivers attempted to help with route planning. But they, too, are learning the new system and generally had limited time at each stop for longer conversations.

    Despite the city’s outreach efforts, many riders interviewed said they had not heard the system was changing. They figured out their trip by using the information at hand, whether that was provided by a driver, a ride guide or a fellow passenger.

    Some of the confusion led to negative reviews. “It needs to go back to how it was,” says a rider named Lawanda who identifies herself as homeless. Sitting on a bench at a Capitol Square bus stop Monday morning, she’s frustrated. A bus driver told her to head to Main Street to catch a bus going toward her destination, the east side Walmart on Nakoosa Trail, but she didn’t know where Main Street was. She felt better after a ride guide stopped by and used landmarks rather than street names to point her to a nearby stop.

    “The good thing is [the buses] come more frequently. That’s the one thing I noticed yesterday,” says Lawanda. “That is the best. It’s okay if you miss a bus because another one is coming back-to-back.”

    Another woman at the same Capitol Square stop declined an interview because she said her route, the 75 that runs to Epic’s campus in Verona, hadn’t changed. Moments later the woman walked away from the stop while making a phone call: “My bus changed [departure times]!” she shouted to this reporter. “It sucks!”

    With new routes and new end destinations listed on bus displays, several riders were prepared to board the right bus, but got on going the wrong direction. Skinner’s mistake Sunday morning resulted in a 30-minute detour. A ride guide on Johnson Street midday Monday helped a rider catch the A in the right direction by walking with him a block to University Avenue. 

    David Alvarado, a ride guide who has been focusing on helping Spanish speaking riders along Park Street, near Post Road, and at the South Transfer Point, says he helped redirect a Spanish speaking woman about to commute home in the wrong direction Monday afternoon.

    “I’ve been telling people about this system for two weeks,” says Alvarado. “But it’s different when you get out there and have to tell people exactly where they need to go.

    “The lack of transfer points especially made it confusing for people at first,” he adds. “But once people figure it out, they’re happy.” That sentiment was echoed by other ride guides who did not want to speak on the record.

    Calls to the Metro call center shot up during the route launch, nearing 1,000 by 3:30 p.m. on Monday, according to Jeremy Olson, who oversees Metro’s ride guide operation. The center typically receives 300 to 400 calls a day. “It was a bit overwhelming, but that is part of change,” says Olson.

    On average, callers waited about five or six minutes to reach someone. One call from Isthmus on Monday morning was picked up without a wait, and another required a wait of about four minutes.

    Olson says ride guides fanned out to closed stops in addition to the transfer points to help point riders in the right direction. In two days of widespread riding and spot checks of closed stops, this reporter observed only one rider waiting at a stop no longer being served, on Northport Road near the Northside Town Center late Monday morning. The closed stop was still on the B bus route, so a bus driver pulled over to the old stop, let the man board, pointed out where his new stop was farther up the street, and continued on.

    But another rider who identified herself as disabled and didn’t want to be named struggled with the new system and had to transfer several times to get to the northeast part of the city and back on Sunday. Despite a frustrating morning involving delays and rain, the woman said the changes must be equally frustrating for Metro’s drivers. “You must be up for sainthood today,” she said to one as she boarded the A bus, a more direct route back to her home suggested to her by another driver.

    Olson noted that concerns for people with limited mobility have been a discussion point throughout the redesign process, suggesting that those in need apply for paratransit service and noting that “we do not have a bus system that goes to every doorstep." As recently as 2017, Metro’s paratransit service did go to every doorstep, but after the loss of millions of dollars in federal Medicaid funding, the city contracted out the service, now run by three private companies. After applying, applicants usually wait weeks before a determination of eligibility.

    Metro’s redesigned system is likely to face additional growing pains. Two weeks into the new routes, Metro officials will assess how the system is running and make some new tweaks, and will do so again if necessary roughly each quarter.

    When UW-Madison students return to campus in August, Metro again plans to deploy ride guides to educate the new population about the changes. One undergraduate student named Grace, who is staying in Madison for the summer, found out the bus system had been redesigned when she arrived at her stop outside Witte Hall Monday afternoon. 

    Grace, who was born in Kenya and grew up in St. Louis, says the possibility of improvements excites her, but it might catch her fellow students off guard. “I think it’s gonna kind of shock people when they come back from summer break,” she says. “People are already learning about new buildings, new processes, new schedules. And this will be another new thing.”

  • 13 Jul 2023 8:31 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Bus Driver Eau Claire Transit Jerry Melsness

    A baby was recently born at a place you wouldn't expect and delivered by a person you wouldn't expect.

    Bus shelters normally keep passengers out of the elements, but for one evening, a bus shelter was the site of a miracle.

    On June 30, Eau Claire Transit bus driver Jerry Melsness had a regular start to his Friday.

    Little did he know after doing this job for just seven-and-a-half months, his role was going to change from driver to doctor.

    "I was probably about three quarters into my run, then I picked up a very pregnant lady," Melsness said. "Probably about five minutes after that, I dropped a gentleman off at a stop. My bus was parked and she screamed a couple of times so then I went and asked her if she was okay. She said she's fine."

    But, she wasn't fine.  At the temporary transfer center in downtown Eau Claire, she told Melsness she wanted to go to the hospital.

    "Then I informed her that the next bus was a half hour from now."

    Time was running out, so she hunkered down in a bus shelter on the north side of the transfer center.

    "She laid down on the bench saying, 'Hold my hand, hold my hand! So then I was holding her hand. And then her contractions got worse and worse. Next thing she's doubled up saying, 'Oh, I feel the head.' And then the rest is history."

    "Have you ever helped deliver a baby before?" reporter Katrina Lim asked.

    "No, I've witnessed it," Melsness replied. "I've got three daughters so I've seen all three of my daughters being born."

    Transit specialist Tina Deetz said as far as she knows, this is a first for Eau Claire Transit.

    "You see this stuff on TV and all the movies, but it's still surreal right now," Melsness said.

    Melsness added just three days after the mom gave birth, he bumped into the mom at the transfer station again.

    She told him she and her baby girl are doing fine.  She was only eight months pregnant so she wasn't expecting to give birth that day.

    To the mom, if you're watching or reading this, please contact us at News 18. We'd love to speak with you about this experience.

  • 10 Jul 2023 6:07 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Altoona Bus Route

    Eau Claire and Altoona bus riders will eventually be able to access more places.

    That's because Eau Claire Transit is planning to add a couple of stops to the Altoona bus route.

    The number 17 bus currently goes from the temporary transfer station in downtown Eau Claire, to Woodman's, to downtown Altoona, and back to the transfer station.

    Come January, transit officials plan to add a stop at the mobile home park Hillcrest Estates and one at River Prairie Park.

    The city spoke with Hillcrest officials beforehand, and Hillcrest sent a survey to their mobile home residents.

    "I did see the survey and there were comments on it like, 'It's about time.' 'I'm excited!' 'I can't wait.' 'We can get our kids to school.  We can go to downtown Eau Claire.'  And so I think it's going to be well-received," said Eau Claire Transit specialist Tina Deetz.

    Deetz said this will double the route from half an hour to an hour, but she anticipates it will also double ridership.

    Because the route will take an extra half hour, they're going to need to take a portion from somewhere else.

    What route that will be is still up for discussion.

  • 3 Jul 2023 7:07 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Public transit systems across the United States are getting a much-needed, if temporary, boost from Taylor Swift fans flooding trains, buses and subways to her sold-out Eras Tour. As transit agencies scramble to recover from the pandemic, transit experts say all those Swifies taking mass transit offer lessons for policymakers on how to adapt to the post-pandemic world.

    The Chicago Transit Authority said it provided 5.63 million rides for the week of June 4-10, the highest number since the start of the pandemic in 2020, and CTA said that Taylor Swift’s sold-out show at Soldier Field contributed to the spike. The three-night concert generated more than 43,000 additional bus and rail rides, CTA said.

    Last month, nearly 140,000 people packed Atlanta’s Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority system to see Swift perform at Mercedes-Benz Stadium over three nights. That’s more than three times the number of MARTA riders on a typical weekend at stations around the stadium.

    Philadelphia’s SEPTA system and New Jersey Transit also got a boost from concertgoers taking mass transit to Swift shows.

    Taylor Swift’s shows are known for helping industries such as hotels and restaurants. Raymond James analysts said this week that the shows were “bigger than the Super Bowl” for hotels.

    Major concerts and special events often lift public transit, and agencies in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Denver, Seattle, Santa Clara, and Los Angeles are all expecting higher ridership from Swift’s tour, said Matthew Dickens, the director of policy development and research at the American Public Transportation Association, an advocacy group.

    Many Taylor Swift fans took mass transit because they believed it would be faster than driving. Public transit agencies saw Taylor Swift concerts as an opportunity to draw riders, and agencies made a push to get Swift fans to take mass transit ahead of shows, adding extra service and routes to meet demand. (Philadelphia even brought the Taylor Swift puns for its campaign: “SEPTA is helping riders shake off traffic congestion.”)

    Transit experts say that increasing service, rather than cutting it, will lead more people to take public transit, and that cutting transit service often leads to a downward spiral of declining service and ridership.

    “What Taylor Swift is doing, and I thank her for this — although I don’t know she intended to — is proving that if you give people better, reliable transit alternatives, they’ll take it,” said Jim Aloisi, a lecturer of transportation policy and planning at MIT and former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation. “They would prefer to do that than be stuck in soul-crushing traffic.”

    Public transit agencies can hold onto these riders by running more frequent service at off-peak hours and weekends, Aloisi said. They can also cater to riders who aren’t going to offices every day but still work outside their homes at coffee shops and other places.

    “The notion that this a nation that functions on a 9 to 5 work mentality is over,” he said. “Transit systems should adapt to the moment.”

    What transit agencies can learn from Taylor Swift concerts

    Public transit is crucial to urban and regional economies, lowering carbon emissions, and access for low-income Americans, who are least likely to own cars.

    But public transit agencies still have yet to fully recover from the impact of the pandemic. They face challenges trying to draw riders and fund budgets and improvement projects.

    The virus first kept millions of riders off trains, buses and other public transit in 2020. Although Covid-19 is no longer considered a global health emergency, the shift to remote work has led fewer people to commute on mass transit during the week to offices. Inconsistent service and safety concerns among some riders have also kept people off public transit.

    Public transit ridership nationwide is down around 30% from pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest estimate from the American Public Transportation Association, although some cities have recovered more quickly.

    The phenomenon shows that public advertisements and promotional campaigns can be extremely successful in helping travelers go back to transit, said Yanfeng Ouyang, a professor in rail and public transit at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

    He said transit agencies should be encouraged to pursue policies such as advertisements and fare discounts to attract riders. Some cities are also experimenting with free public transit rides.

  • 29 Jun 2023 7:05 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    After the recent June debut of Milwaukee's new Bus Rapid Transit system down Wisconsin Avenue, officials are reporting positive ridership.

    About 16,800 rides were delivered on the Connect 1 in its first week between June 4-10, according to a news release from the Milwaukee County Transit System.

    “We are thrilled with the early results on CONNECT and appreciate all of the positive comments we’ve received about our new BRT line,” said MCTS President and Managing Director Denise Wandke in a news release. “Thanks go out to all our supporters who have championed this project: elected officials, business leaders, transit advocates, and our dedicated riders.”

    For its first week, the Connect 1 gave an average of 2,800 rides per weekday, according to MCTS. For many of the rides on the 9-mile route, three main destinations were apparent: downtown Milwaukee, Marquette University and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.

    Downtown saw around 700 rides per day, while Marquette saw around 500 per day and the medical center saw 200, according to MCTS. The most popular stop is located downtown at Water Street receiving around 300 rides per day.

    Transit officials said the connection to Waukesha's Metro Route 1 is getting growth with the Connect 1 debut. Metro 1 ridership boosted from 300 to 700 rides per day, MCTS said.

    The new fleet for the BRT route includes seven buses with electric batteries, plus five clean diesels and other buses added during peak times, MCTS said. Rides on the new transit route remain free until Sept. 30, officials said.

    “By modernizing transit, the BRT provides Milwaukee County with the transportation options people need to get to work, school and appointments more quickly and efficiently. With sustainable funding, the County could continue to see the positive economic impact transit has on the businesses and destinations that transit brings people to,” said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley in a news release.

    Riders can get more information about the new bus route through
  • 26 Jun 2023 1:07 PM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment - Active Transportation 

    WisDOT is completing a safety assessment for Vulnerable Road Users throughout Wisconsin.  Please click on the link below to complete the brief survey.  The results will aid the development of the safety assessment.  Thank you!

  • 26 Jun 2023 6:40 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Graphic og GO Transit Research being conducted by UWO interns

    They can hardly be called interns.

    With a variety of majors, a trio of University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students and one new graduate, have done the lion’s share of the work involved in surveying parents and compiling data about transportation needs in the city of Oshkosh.

    The UW Oshkosh Whitburn Center for Governance and Policy Research is assisting Winnebago County Public Health with a survey to understand the impact of a pilot GO Transit city bus program that provides free rides to K-12 students.

    Samantha Larson, deputy director of the Whitburn Center, said the UWO students are gaining skills that will help them as they apply to graduate programs or explore career opportunities.

    Adrian Hanrahan of West Bend, who graduated in December with an English degree and has been working at the UWO Writing Center as she prepares for the start of grad school in fall, is part of the four-person team researching the GO Transit program.

    “Public transit is very important to me as someone who does not drive and often relies on the bus, and it connects to my own social and environmental values and my minor in social justice,” she said. “I am glad to be part of a project that aims to improve public transit options, especially for youth.”

    Hanrahan said the experience has helped her learn how to bring research ‘into the real world’ through the use of surveys and focus groups.  It also gave her a better sense of the needs of youth and their parents.

    She hopes to eventually earn a doctorate and teach at a public university.

    “I find opportunities to practice my social and advocacy skills very helpful. No amount of reading can prepare me for the social and emotional elements of my future career as an instructor quite like having conversations with real people.”

    Hanrahan has been working with three seniors: Julianna “Jules” Banayag of Oshkosh whose major is sociology; Ene “Priscilla” Idoko of Abuja, Nigeria, whose major is economics; and Maya Van Thiel of Appleton, whose major is social work.

    Van Thiel said she has learned about the importance of free public transportation.

    “This not only provides a free ride to school, but also impacts students’ daily well-being to hang out with friends after school and attending volunteer and employment opportunities,” she said, adding the project relates to her social work major as she could advocate for those who may not have “a voice” in the matter.

    Van Thiel plans to continue her education to earn a master’s degree in social work. She said she is hoping to work with students in her future career.

    Data collected by the Whitburn interns will be presented May 10 to inform Oshkosh city and school leaders as decisions are made regarding the free bus fare program.

    Key study findings

    • A total of 117 K-12 students and 114 parents/caretakers responded to the survey that studied educational, health and financial impact.
    • About 31% of students and 40% of parents said school attendance was impacted by the availability of the GO Transit city bus program. Of the student group, 46% live in a household without a reliable vehicle.
    • Some 61% of students and 49% of parents reported access to free transportation had high impact on participation in social activities. The greatest impact on both students (77% surveyed) and parents/caretakers (75% surveyed) was financial—the money they saved by using the GO Transit city bus program.
    • Ridership has increased dramatically each year since the pilot program began in 2020, with 142,814 rides recorded in 2022

    Written by Laurie Schlosser

    Link to original story:

  • 22 Jun 2023 10:07 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Transit Center Construction

    The new Eau Claire Transit Center is still undergoing construction — and despite the progress made — won't fully open until midsummer of 2024.

    The building is nearly complete though, and city officials plan to open the parking ramp portion later this year. However, bus services won't begin until the exterior of the apartments are done. Cory Tietz, an official from Eau Claire Community Services Department, said rising costs due to COVID-19 and inflation caused the first developer to drop out of the apartment project and a new developer was approved in February 2023. For safety reasons, the transit center can't completely open until the apartments are done.

    "There's still a lot of overhead work that needs to be done to build those three stories that would go on top of this structure," Tietz said. "So there will be an overhead crane and stuff set up again and just for safety reasons of people entering and exiting that facility, it's best to stay out of it."

    Officials are hopeful that construction on the apartments will start this fall as the new developer, Merge LLC., is finalizing plans for the three-story addition. Once the exterior and the foundation of the apartments are complete, the center and its bus services could be open by the summer of 2024. Tietz anticipates the apartments could finish construction in summer 2025.
  • 19 Jun 2023 10:04 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    There's a new way to get around Milwaukee County. The Connect 1 transit line is now taking people from the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa to Downtown Milwaukee. The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line is the first of its kind in Milwaukee.

    At a ribbon cutting for the new route, and the new electric buses to accompany it, officials said the new transit line will make one of the most important corridors in the region more accessible to everyone.

    "All of our residents should be able to access employment, access educational or recreational opportunities in any ZIP code across Milwaukee County. And this east-west BRT is a step in the right direction," said Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley. "I can't think of a safer way, a better way to move across Milwaukee County and enjoy all the things Milwaukee County has to offer."

    The transit line will connect people to several colleges and high schools, 120,000 jobs, seven medical facilities and things like Bucks games, the county zoo and Summerfest.

    The new line is a big upgrade for frequent MCTS user Denise Koss, who said she relies on public transit. Koss also uses a wheelchair.

    "For everything. Visiting friends, visiting family, going to the doctor, shopping," Koss said. "I will use this line to connect to other lines. I take the 15, I take the 35. So I'll just be using this all the time."

    On top of its efficiency, Koss says the new buses on the route are safer for people who use wheelchairs.

    "I tried it yesterday, I love the self-securement for my wheelchair. I don't have to have the bus driver get in my space. I can do it myself. I feel very, very secure and safe. And it's just a good way to get around the community," Koss said.

    Bus fare on the Connect 1 route is free until Sept. 30.

  • 15 Jun 2023 7:52 AM | WIPTA Admin (Administrator)

    Blue Connect 1 bus at nighttime in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

    Milwaukee celebrated the opening of its first bus rapid transit (BRT) line last weekend, reports Graham Kilmer in Urban Milwaukee. “The system promises faster travel times through a mix of dedicated lanes, traffic signal priority, off-bus ticketing and dedicated stations.”

    The nine-mile line uses electric buses, promises headways of 10 to 15 minutes, and will offer free rides until the end of September. The BRT stations feature “glass shelters, elevated platforms, digital signs showing real-time bus arrivals and off-bus fare validators.” Connect 1 runs parallel to Interstate 94.

    According to the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS), “Ridership will be fueled by activity generators within the half-mile station area around the route including: 9 colleges and universities and 8 high schools, 48,900 residents, 110,700 jobs, 200 businesses with 100 or more employees, 8 medical facilities, 25+ hotels, and countless attractions including the county zoo, American Family Field, Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee Art Museum and Summerfest.”

    FULL STORY: Milwaukee’s First Bus Rapid Transit Line Is Open for Business

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