Loss of Transit Leaves Many Facing Tough Options

By Ken Miller

Imagine having to arrange a ride every time you planned to go anywhere in the community and paying $10 to $20 for each round-trip. This has become real life for many people in our community this year, since the buses stopped running to Schofield, Rothschild and Weston in January.

In the past I'd never given busing much of a second thought; it seemed public transportation was a reliable service every metro area provided. Nor had I ever considered who these bus-riding people might be. And it never occurred to me that public transportation could so easily be removed from the community it serves.

All of that has changed. Alarmed at the complete loss of bus service in the south metro area, I have been working with the citizens groups that are seeking to restore metro-wide transit. I began gathering the stories of bus riders, health care and transportation providers, social workers, businesses -- anyone who may be experiencing the deeper consequences of this decision.

Lives upended

Ken Miller, 41, is a former bus rider who still gets to work in Weston even though bus service came to a screeching halt on Jan. 1. But life without the bus has caused dramatic change in his life. Miller used to pay $15 a month for a bus pass that provided reliable transportation throughout the day. He now pays $240 a month for an individual Medi-van ride provided by the Marathon County Transportation Department that can accommodate his wheelchair.

The sudden loss of bus service left Miller financially overwhelmed and emotionally distressed over the need to plan and organize every trip he made outside the home. He's experienced a tremendous loss of independence; he can no longer afford the cost of transportation for anything beyond basic necessities. Miller has moved to Wausau, where public transportation will allow him to shop, make medical appointments, volunteer and attend social events.

The personal anxiety and expense Miller has experienced quickly has become a substantial burden. Throughout our communities, it has fallen directly upon those already surviving on the fringes of our community.

Miller helps out at a local taxi company.

"Business has definitely picked up since the buses have stopped," he said, "because people have no other way to get around and it's killing them financially to pay a cab fare to get to work. What's really hard to see are the little old men calling for a ride to the grocery store. They're living on a fixed income and a cab fare costs almost $18 round-trip."

Burden on group homes

I talked with two Weston residents who have run a certified adult family home for 34 years and presently care for two developmentally handicapped men. It used to cost $30 a month for two bus passes that would provide these men transportation throughout the region. Without bus service, it costs the home more than $700 a month just for transporting them to their jobs at Northern Valley Workshop.

These men no longer can travel independently within the greater community, which means they either stay home or catch rides with the couple who operate the home.

And there are other adult family homes facing financial crises as public transportation ends. Some could be at risk of closing due to excessive transportation costs. Where will people with disabilities live, and what kinds of costs will those services incur?

"Feeling stranded" was the term used by Aging and Disabilities Resource Center resource specialists I spoke to who reported similar findings; group home members who relied on public transportation to attend community activities no longer can participate. An ADRC specialist also told me that elderly Schofield and Rothschild residents specifically expressed this sense. They moved into the area knowing bus service was available. With the service's end, they've been left with few affordable alternatives.

People need the bus

These stories barely scratch the surface of what's happened as residents in our community absorb the cost and consequences created by this loss. Municipal budgets will continue to tighten and each of us will be forced to make difficult decisions that affect our community and our pocketbook. But I've learned that people need the bus; their independence and quality of life depend on it.

Public transportation supports a climate where people from all walks of life can be engaged and productive members of our community. Isn't that what strong community is all about?

On Friday, a Marathon County Circuit Court judge will determine whether the village of Weston must put the transportation referendum on the April 3 ballot. The Everyone Has A Place Campaign is focused on giving the people of Weston a voice in determining what their larger community priorities should be. Public transportation is for the good of all the community, a community where Everyone Has A Place.

Original Article: http://www.wausaudailyherald.com/article/20120311/WDH06/203120337/Jean-Abreu-column-Feeling-stranded-Loss-transit-leaves-many-facing-tough-options?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE%7Cp