— Cuts to bus services and a lack of commuter and light rail
have kept public transportation from catching on in Wisconsin as
it has in many other parts of the nation, transportation officials
and advocates said Monday.
nearly 10.7 billion trips on public buses, trains and subways in
2013, the most since 1956, according to ridership data released by
the American Public Transportation Association.
residents have been using public transportation less, taking 65.7
million trips in 2012 compared with 76.4 million trips in 2000,
according to the state Department of Transportation. It did not
yet have statewide figures for 2013.
A handful of
Wisconsin communities were included in the APTA report, which
showed fewer people climbing onto buses in Milwaukee, Racine and
Port Washington. Madison's buses saw a few more riders.
Al Stanek, the
parking and transit systems manager for the city of Racine, said
its system has been attracting fewer riders since it reduced
services and raised fares in response to a 10 percent
across-the-board state funding cut for public transportation
services in 2012. The Belle Urban System, which serves Racine, cut
services again in 2013. Overall, it has reduced its hours by more
than 10 percent in two years.
middle of the day, we went to buses running just once an
hour," Stanek said. "It's about the bare minimum you can
provide service. If you missed the bus, now you'd be standing out
in the cold for an hour, an hour and a half."
was able to avoid similar cuts in bus service by getting a federal
grant that runs out this year, said Brendan Conway, spokesman for
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. But the county had already
been raising fares and cutting services for more than a decade.
Buses in the
Milwaukee area now travel 22 percent fewer miles than they did in
2000, according to report released late last year by the
nonpartisan, nonprofit Public Policy Forum. As a result, many
Milwaukee residents who live in areas with high unemployment can't
get to jobs that might be available to them in fast-growing
discourages commuters with its lack of rail service and rapid
transit, which could include buses with dedicated lanes and fewer
stops, said Rob Henken, the Public Policy Forum's president. Rail
services showed the biggest gains in riders in the APTA report, he
Scott Walker killed a high-speed rail project planned under former
Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle to connect Madison and Milwaukee.
two-year state budget crafted by Walker and Republican lawmakers
will increase mass transit funding by 4 percent in 2015. It also
provided an extra $250,000 per year for van and other services for
elderly and disabled residents who can't use regular public
The state now
spends $2.75 million on such services, which are among its most
pressing transportation needs, said Gary R. Goyke, legislative
director for the Wisconsin Urban and Rural Transit Association.
Unlike many other states, Wisconsin has a large number of senior
citizens who live in rural areas where they would be stranded
without public transportation, he said.
other option is that you get a ride from a family member or a
friend," he said.
in communities that have been able to avoid service cuts said they
have seen more people riding buses in the past five years. La
Crosse saw bus ridership increase 3.1 percent from 2012 to 2013,
and Valley Transit, which serves Appleton and the Fox Valley, had
its two busiest years in 2012 and 2013.
People who began
riding during the recession "realized how efficient it was
and less stressful, they stayed on when the economy picked
up," said Keith Lee, interim transit manager in La Crosse.