Transit Department holds two public hearings
Today, the Transit Department held two public hearings on the proposed bus fare increases. Only nine people attended the morning session, and three people attended the evening session. Most of the dialogue exchange discussed in this article happened at the morning session. Check our previous article for details on the proposed fare increases: Public Hearings on Bus Fare Increase.
Ron Iwen, transit director, said that no route changes are planned, just the rate increases. They are also proposing leaving the Saturday service the same as it is now. Currently, four buses run on Saturday. Iwen stated that the department experienced a loss of funding from the state last year.
One blind woman, Ericka Short, speaking on behalf of the group, Stand for Independence, a rights advocacy group, commented that she can’t get where she wants to go, unless she waits downtown for an hour. “This is inconvenient, annoying, and unfair,” she said. “The bus service doesn’t go anywhere.” She questioned Iwen on the size of the buses. Iwen said that bus size doesn’t influence a lot. Fuel savings are minimal. Iwen said that the buses get from 4.5 to 5 mpg. The normal life of a bus is from 12 to 15 years. It costs $1.69/mile to run a bus route.
Short says that it takes her an hour and a half to go from her home on 85th Street near Tremper High School to go to the Job Center. She said that she could walk there faster. “But, that’s ridiculous,” she said. “It’s much safer taking the bus. And, what about in the winter time? People can get stranded in the winter. I’m concerned about peoples’ safety.”
Another woman who has a car said that she feels sorry for those who have to take the bus. If a person misses the bus on Saturday, they have to call a cab. “That’s ridiculous in a city this size,” she said. She said that she didn’t have a problem with the rate increase, but that all residents deserve better service. “The fare is $2.50 in Milwaukee, and you can go through most of the city,” she said. Iwen said that he doesn’t disagree.
Iwen said that many factors go into the decision to change routes and service. They review the most productive routes they have, the ridership, routes and service. Iwen said that maintenance and repair costs continue to increase, while funding decreases. “My employees haven’t had a raise in five years,” he said.
Sandy Milligan, a representative from Congregations United to Serve Humanity (CUSH), asked Iwen if the extra money would be used to improve Saturday service. She wanted to know what it would take to improve Saturday service. “Running from 9 to 4 is not ideal, but if all of the buses ran on a regular time frame, that would be helpful.” Iwen said that he didn’t price that, but he could calculate it. He said that cutting back to four bus routes on Saturday last year saved $200,000.
Short then asked Iwen if he had ever ridden the bus, and he said that he had. He said that he rides it twice a year. But, he’s open to change and public suggestions. She was also concerned about people wanting to come to Kenosha, “a destination” according to the Lakota Group study, but once they get here on the Metra, they can’t go anywhere. “Nothing connects,” she said. “It’s not welcoming. Why go through all that? We can’t get tourists here. And, streetcars are not the answer.” Iwen said that he thought street cars are the answer. They run seven days a week. They go by the Metra and the museums. “Ridership, density, and funding are the battles we face,” he said.
Another woman asked about the route from the industrial parks to St. Catherine’s and the Southport Plaza. She wanted to know if the Transit Department had checked the stats on that route. Iwen said that it’s a density issue. “West of Green Bay Road, we don’t have the density or the population,” he said. “We do transport employees of the industrial parks, St. Catherine’s Hospital, the McDonald’s west of the I, the Citgo gas station, students in White Caps. It’s more like a rural area. There are big spaces between stops, service to two major hospitals (St. Cat’s and Aurora).” The woman wanted to know if the employers give the Transit Department stats on their employees who use the buses, and the reply was no. The bus operators collect the data, not the businesses. The ridership is about 100 to 150 on Route 31 on Mondays through Fridays. “When you look at routes, that’s not much,” Iwen said. Most bus stops do best in highly dense areas.
Short wanted to know if the Transit Department ever asked current drivers of vehicles why they don’t use the bus. “It’s because it goes nowhere, it’s not efficient enough, and it doesn’t provide any cost savings. You can’t get to where you want to go in a timely fashion,” she said. Iwen said that he didn’t think there was a place in Kenosha that they currently don’t travel by, past, or close to. She also wanted to know why she can’t get to Pleasant Prairie any longer, and Iwen said that it wasn’t in the city limits. Pleasant Prairie and Somers don’t want to pay for the service.
A suggestion was made to use marketing like they do in Milwaukee to increase ridership. Bus commercials are aired in Madison and Janesville. Possibly, an ad could be run on WLIP, for example. “If it gets you rides, that equals revenue.”
A discussion about the Y generation concluded that they’re not utilizing cars any more. Iwen relayed that a Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) representative visiting from Boston said that he was upset that he had to buy a car. Most young kids these days think having a car is a burden. Another suggestion made was to put bus schedules at the Sustainability Shelter exhibit which is on display at the Kenosha Public Museum. See the article on this exhibit by clicking here: “Sustainable Shelter Exhibit at the Kenosha Public Museum.” Iwen also stated that Kenosha’s Transit Department is the first in the state of Wisconsin to be certified green. The Kenosha Public Museums also received this certification.
A bus driver by the name of Bill talked about compressed natural gas (CNG). Iwen said that there were problems with the buses that used this gas. It was overheating the engines, splitting heads and blocks because of the increased pressure. The department is constantly looking at new and different technologies, such as diesel hybrids, battery, and electric vehicles. The bus driver also said that what he hears from customers is that a fare increase is no problem at all. Most students have bus passes.
Iwen said that one spark of hope would be for a bill to be passed with bipartisan support to create a regional transit authority (RTA), because then there would be a special assessment for extra funding. “This would provide a new and better revenue stream. Then, we could provide more service,” Iwen said. It is hoped that this legislation will pass in January or February. Iwen said that his department also goes after whatever grant money they can.
Milligan asked for two cost estimates: one was to keep the same Saturday service, the same four routes, but make them on an hourly schedule, and the other was to have all routes on an hourly schedule. Iwen said that he would prepare cost estimates for these.
Iwen also urged CUSH to be a bulldog group to get additional funding from the state. “Fares don’t provide a lot of revenue. Funding cuts equal service cuts,” he said. “I also look at things in a positive light. I look at the glass being half full,” he said. “The mayor supports it, but we are limited by revenue. The president is a hardcore advocate for transit. He has proposed lots of money for that infrastructure. I’m not advocating only for the city of Kenosha, but the entire area of Kenosha, the County. The RTA may include Racine and Milwaukee. This would enable us to go into areas that we don’t go into currently. Fight with me,” he urged CUSH.
Short did pay the Transit Department a compliment. She said that she really appreciates the fact that when she calls for advice on which route to take to get somewhere, she always receives a patient, well-spoken person on the other end of the line. She said, “Please don’t take away that job for a person.” She appreciates the kindness of the bus drivers who help her walk to her connection.
Iwen said that his best tool is his bus drivers. “If they are not professional, courteous, and helpful, call me.”
A 19-year retired bus driver named Bill was at the evening session, and he suggested not allowing students with Kenosha Unified School District (KUSD) bus passes to ride for free after school has let out for the day. Iwen said that the KUSD bus passes given to students are only good for when school is in session, 180 days a year. The KUSD bus passes are not part of the proposed bus fare increase discussed at these public hearings. The Transit Department and the KUSD operate under a contract regarding those bus passes, and the contract comes up at the end of this year.
“Basically,” Iwen said, ‘I have heard no one saying anything negative about the proposed bus fare increases.”
If you’d like to provide your comments regarding this issue, call the Transit Department at (262) 653-4290, or e-mail them at [email protected]