All Ryde buses on Friday, Feb. 4, had a seat reserved for Rosa Parks. She was born Feb. 4, 1913, and died in 2005.
City of Racine
RACINE — On Feb. 4, every RYDE bus had a seat reserved for Rosa Parks, honoring the Civil Rights icon on her birthday, which also is National Transit Equity Day.
Every seat had a flyer that honored Parks and a red rose.
Willie McDonald, RYDE Racine general manager, said he was concerned that someone might come along and ruin the memorial, but his concerns did not materialize and the riders showed respect.
“We got great feedback from that, from the bus operators and from the community, our riders were saying to the bus operators how much they loved it,” McDonald said.
Trevor Jung, the city’s transit manager, said that Feb. 4 has become the day to celebrate transit as a civil right.
Equity in transit was the topic of conversation at a virtual panel discussion hosted by the African American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Racine on Feb. 22.
Nikki Payne of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission moderated the discussion and was joined by McDonald and Jung for a discussion that encompassed many topics related to the challenges in transit, transit equity, and planning for future transit needs.
McDonald has been a RYDE employee for 32 years, starting when it was still called the Belle Urban System. He started off as a part-time operator and worked his way up to general manager. He said he has seen a lot of changes along the way.
He explained when he started, “the system was flourishing” in the city. There might be five buses on route during peak-use times, so no one had to wait long for a bus, maybe just 20 minutes.
However, there was no service to the outlying communities.
Now there is some service to the outlying communities — Sturtevant, Caledonia, etc. — but fewer buses on individual routes due to a shifting of resources.
The challenge for city transit is to provide the services the community needs within their budget, which is frequently a balancing act.
Jobs in outlying areas
McDonald explained the service to the outlying communities is important because there are job opportunities for Racine folks there.
For example, night service was added to the Grandview Business Park to get third-shift workers to their jobs and second-shift workers home. “That’s doing pretty good,” he said of that line.
The challenge, of course, is funding and “all the municipalities play a role in that,” he said. He pointed to Foxconn as an example of an issue that has to be addressed so that those in the city without vehicles could take advantage of any potential jobs should the property be developed.
McDonald said there is a good relationship between transit and the outlying communities, which was one of the improvements that occurred over the years.
Jung has been on the job as the city’s transit manager for about six months. Prior to that, he was a City of Racine alderman and chairman of the Transit Committee.
He pointed out before the pandemic, RYDE transported “well over a million riders a year.” The system is now building back after taking a serious hit due to the pandemic.
Jung said the city’s bus system has to do more than just wait for old customers to return. Instead, they will have to take action to attract new customers.
One of the actions is eliminating the aspect that makes taking the bus unattractive: waiting at the bus stop, which is even more cumbersome in the winter.
RYDE is currently in the process of incorporating automatic vehicle locator technology on the buses, which would allow people with the app to see exactly where their bus is in order to eliminate time spent waiting at the stop.
“Instead of waiting on your bus and not necessarily knowing when it’s going to show up at the stop, you’re going to be able to look at your phone and see when that bus is going to arrive so you can plan your trips according,” Jung said.
What will transportation look like in 2050? The transit system? Even the population? How will today’s toddlers commute to work or recreation when they are grown-ups?
SEWRPC is asking these questions as part of what it is calling Vision 2050.
Payne explained the far-reaching exercise is a requirement of the federal government that has gathered data from nine advisory committees, thousands of participants, and community partners.
There were also contributions from people with disabilities, communities of color, and poor/working class communities to “make sure we got their feedback as we pull this altogether.”
SEWRPC is a regional office serving seven counties with more than 2 million people within the service area.
That is approximately 35% of the state, Payne noted, so it is an important project.
As part of the project, SEWRPC looked at other regions similar to southeast Wisconsin to determine if their challenges were similar. The challenges included racial disparities, slow job growth, and slow population growth.
While the region does have bus service, there are other public transportation systems it does not have, including rapid transit and a commuter rail, that are found in other major cities.
High rates of poverty result in populations that require public transportation to get to jobs, school, medical appoints, etc.
Payne presented data from the study that showed the disparities that exist between minority and non-minority populations:
- People of color are 4.5 times less likely to have a high school diploma than their white peers
- People of color are 2 times less likely to have a bachelor’s degree
- People of color are 4.1 times more likely than whites to have incomes at or below the poverty line
These disparities will require broad-based, equitable solutions, especially in transit that is so necessary for both people and businesses if the workforce is going to be strong.
Payne displayed a visual representation to highlight the difference between equality and equity to underscore what would be needed.
Three people of various heights were shown standing on blocks that were equal in size in order to see over a fence. However, the one block was insufficient for the short person and barely sufficient the medium-sized person.
In the equitable representation, the tall person was given just one block while the short person was given three blocks so all could see over the fence.
Jung explained it was important to talk about transportation with the context of equity because transportation is about providing access to opportunities, such as employment, health care, places of recreation, and generally about expanding the experiences that are available to people.
“So regardless of what ZIP code you live in, what neighborhood you live in, transit — in many respects — is a way for you to access the rest of your community,” he said. “And because of that everybody deserves a right to a fully funded and operational transit system so they can live the life they hope to live.”
The issue of public transit went beyond serving those who cannot afford personal vehicles.
As was noted several times, the young people of today are looking for transit alternatives and are not necessarily tied to personal vehicles like generations past.
In the region, Payne explained, the population is leaning more toward the senior side and, according to the U.S. Census data, 44% of the region SEWRPC was examining was 65 years old and older.
“So one of the identified challenges is attracting young people to remain in the region to work and live,” she said. “We have to make sure that we’re providing opportunities for those that are here and making sure to keep them here.”
Jung later added that the bus not only takes people where they want to go, but “it’s the environmentally friendly choice of getting from point A to point B, and many of today’s youth will be looking for that option when choosing a place to live and work.”
The city is in the process of replacing 25% of its diesel buses with electric buses, a $9 million investment in the transit system. The investment was made possible through a grant from the state, paid in part by Volkswagen as part of compensation for U.S. emissions guidelines it both ignored and lied about ignoring.