Can a new plan end Metro Ride's doom cycle?
Reviewing a new plan by city-hired transit consultants
Ever since I move back to Wausau, Metro Ride has been in dire trouble.
I’ve written multiple stories on Metro Ride’s woes, the inadequacies of the bus system, and how it keeps getting worse every year. The end of the K route, imperfect though it was, meant that no one in the metro south could get around by bus. The local jobs center put together a map showing that far fewer than 50% of the jobs available on a given week in Wausau could be accessed via the bus; then the number dropped even more, to about one quarter. (For some reason they stopped doing it after two years, which is baffling. They also kept it pretty quiet for some reason; I had to get it from a third party.)
Then Shopko closed (as did all Shopkos) and the last department store accessible by bus was gone. Now the mall is gone too, so retail options for bus riders are few and far between.
The overriding message I heard repeatedly in meeting after meeting is “we need the bus! We can’t let this service disappear. We need to convince people!”
The problem is, most people are convinced. In a survey conducted in 2018, a majority of people in all metro municipalities felt there should be some kind of bus service. Everyone kept asking “should” when they should have been asking “what?” It’s like selling someone on something to block the sun, but never offering a specific product like a hat. It’s an empty gesture.
Couple that with an administration addicted to the doom and gloom scenario and ready to say no to every possible new idea, and it’s a recipe for a doom cycle.
The city last year hired a consultant to study the bus system from the ground up. There was plenty of opposition to this, and it nearly didn’t happen. Couldn’t we just Google solutions? Well, if that would have worked, it would have worked already.
Last week those consultants, led by Laura Brown of RLS and Associates, laid out their findings and their plan. That included a number of survey results that were surprising to literally no one who has been paying attention. “Look, people want the bus!” Duh. “Look, there are plenty of people who rely on the bus, and there are also plenty of young professionals who want to move to communities that have public transportation.” Yep, check, already got that. (I’ve met plenty of them, who have moved here and were surprised to learn they couldn’t just get around via the bus. Fancy apartments won’t do any good if those who want to get around without a car can’t do so. Every city has fancy apartments.) 1
But I had no fast forward button, so I sat patiently through the “heard it all before” part until we got to the good part. The solutions. RLS presented a bold plan to address the transit problems.
It’ll be expensive. It can be done piecemeal. It involves three scenarios that aren’t mutually exclusive: Improving bus tech and expanding service inside the Wausau city limits; expanding service to the broader metro; and streamlining current bus routes to free up money for expansion and upgrades.
The good news: It’s the bold plan that Wausau has needed since at least 2014, and it brings fresh ideas. And, unlike previous tries (which lacked specifics) there’s actually buy-in from community leaders and business leaders (yes, Brown says, they’re actually ready to pony up some money).
The bad news: As I mentioned, it’s expensive, and the bus system is already shorthanded. Finding drivers just to fill existing routes is already a challenge.
Whether you’re pro or anti-bus, whether you think it should be expanded in every possible way or should disappear, you ought to know what is in the plan. Here are the details.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Wausonian to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.