Options in five-year plan will be on display for review, comment at local meeting on March 5
By Ed Nadolski
Editor in Chief
Western Racine County residents are invited to offer their opinions on future public transportation options, including a local shared-ride taxi service and a Burlington-to-Milwaukee commuter bus.
Those are just two among a variety of options included in a five-year plan for improving public transportation that is being developed by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission in conjunction with Racine County and the City of Racine.
Local residents will have a chance to learn more about the plan and offer their opinions during a meeting scheduled for Tuesday, March 5, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Veterans Terrace, 589 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington.
The meeting will be in an open house format, allowing residents to attend at any time during the two-hour timeframe. A short presentation will be given at 5:30 p.m. At any time during each meeting, attendees can leave written comments or speak to a court reporter or staff member to provide oral comments.
A second meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 6, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Corinne Reid-Owens Transit Center, 1421 State St., Racine.
To prepare for the meetings, SEWRPC has produced a newsletter outlining the various alternatives for public transportation in the near future. The newsletter can be found online at www.myracinecounty.com.
All input received at the meetings will be considered as final recommendations are developed, according to SEWRPC.
What’s in the plan?
While at least a third of the plan focuses on route and schedule improvements for the City of Racine’s Belle Urban System of buses, it also provides alternatives for the west side of the county – namely the Burlington, Waterford and Union Grove areas.
The county plan provides three alternatives that range from expansion of the current SPARC (Shuttling People Around Racine County) service for seniors and disabled people to a shared-ride taxi service that is available to everyone.
Planners contend the latter will likely triple ridership in Western Racine County, but will also require a steep increase in funding during the first five years of the program.
So what is a shared-ride taxi program? According to SEWRPC, it is a door-to-door transit service open to the general public. The taxi is usually provided using small vehicles, such as automobiles, vans or small buses. Passengers may share a vehicle for at least part of their trip. A dispatch center handles service requests like a conventional taxicab service.
Ozaukee and Washington counties have operated successful shared-ride services for years.
Here’s a closer look at the three alternatives offered by SEWRPC in the county plan:
• Alternative 1 proposes three ways to modestly improve or expand transit services.
One option is to expand eligibility of the existing county demand-response transportation service that operates west of I-94 –currently limited to seniors and persons with disabilities – to anyone who receives assistance from county agencies.
Another is to combine the existing City of Racine and Racine County paratransit services east of I-94.
A third is to continue to fund and refine the county SPARC service and make modest changes so the service is eligible to receive federal and state public transit funding assistance.
• Alternative 2 would replace the current, eligibility-limited county transportation service west of I-94 with a public shared-ride taxi program. The shared-ride taxi program would provide on-call curb-to-curb transit service open to the general public.
The shared-ride taxi service would have the same service area as the existing eligibility-limited service and would operate weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Adult one-way fares would range from $4 to $7.75, with discounts for students, seniors and disabled people.
• Alternative 3 would involve establishing a vanpool program for long work commute trips. The vanpool program could either be operated by the county or by a private operator.
Vanpools are for workers with longer commutes who cannot use public transportation or find it inconvenient to do so. They consist of groups of five to 15 people commuting to and from work. Each member contributes to the cost of operating the van. One member volunteers to drive, usually in exchange for reduced monthly fees. Typically, the vans are owned by a third party, such as a government agency, an employer, or a private vanpool operator.
SEWRPC officials contend there are several combinations of these alternatives that can be accomplished without significantly increasing the amount the county currently pays for transportation services.
However, at least two of those options – expanding transit services to all people who receive county services, and the shared-ride taxi program – have the potential to significantly increase the county’s public transit costs.
“Replacing the existing County demand-response service west of Interstate Highway 94 with a service open to anyone who receives assistance from county agencies or with a shared-ride taxi program open to the general public would be expected to require a significant increase in County funding within or beyond the next five years,” SEWRPC officials wrote in a summary of the alternatives.
Commuter bus eyed
In addition to transportation within the county, the plan examines alternatives for inter-county transport.
Among the four alternatives developed for better connecting Racine County residents and activity centers to adjacent counties, one focuses on the west side of the county.
That alternative proposes a commuter bus service between the City of Burlington and downtown Milwaukee. The route would serve several park-ride lots (Burlington, Waterford and Franklin lots are currently proposed), with two weekday round-trips focused on service from Burlington to Milwaukee in the morning and the reverse direction in the afternoon.
The other alternatives presented focus on east-end services. Those include:
• Increasing the service frequency on the existing Milwaukee-Racine-Kenosha commuter bus route, operated by Wisconsin Coach Lines;
• Proposing three ways to improve transportation connections between Belle Urban System routes in the City of Racine and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside campus; and
• Providing express bus service between the cities of Racine and Kenosha. The service would operate on weekdays, with stops limited to about every quarter mile to one mile.
Each of the inter-county alternatives would require an increase in the costs for providing public transit services between Racine County and surrounding counties.
A copy of the transit plan newsletter developed by SEWRPC can be found here:
If you go…
What: Public input session on options in the five-year public transportation plan for Racine County.
When: Tuesday, March 5, from 4:30-6:30 p.m.
Where: Veterans Terrace, 589 Milwaukee Ave., Burlington.
Lowdown: Local residents will have a chance to comment on options developed for local public transportation, including alternatives such as a shared-ride taxi service open to everyone and a Burlington-to-Milwaukee commuter bus route.
Can’t attend? Written comments will be accepted until March 8 and may be submitted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, fax at (262) 547-1103 and U.S. mail at Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, W239 N1812 Rockwood Dr., P.O. Box 1607, Waukesha, WI 53187-1607.
More info: See the plan website at www.sewrpc.org/racinetransitplan.