By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — A proposed transportation plan for Dunn County includes commuter bus service to Eau Claire and bus service in rural parts of the county.
Ann Schell, West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, and Kent Conklin, Dunn County Transit manager, presented the preliminary transportation development plan to the Dunn County Board February 20.
The transportation development plan includes three fixed bus routes in Menomonie (north, south and east), a commuter service from Menomonie to Eau Claire, and a plan for providing bus service to rural parts of Dunn County.
The elderly and people living in poverty tend to rely more heavily on using bus transportation, Schell said.
More than a quarter of Menomonie’s population — 30 percent — are classified as living in poverty, and most of those are UW-Stout students, she said.
The number of people living in poverty is based on annual income reported through the census, Schell said.
Dunn County’s population of people over the age of 60 is lower than the state average, but if the Stout students are not included, then 18.9 percent of Dunn County residents are over 60, she said.
The state average is 18.9 percent of people over 60, but that number is higher than the average for the United States, Schell said.
Fixed routes work very well in Menomonie, she said.
In the rural areas, the elderly and disabled are especially in need of transportation, but “the rural area is completely different,” Schell said.
Fixed routes will not work in rural parts of the county, but what will work is “demand-response,” she said.
Rural bus service
The transportation development plan is proposing to divide Dunn County into quadrants, and then each quadrant will have demand-response bus service one day per week.
Rural residents would be able to call a day or two ahead and then would be picked up at their door, Schell explained.
A demand-response service based on quadrants of the county would allow people to schedule doctor’s appointments, for example, for those days that service is offered in the quadrant where they live, she said.
The commuter service from Menomonie to Eau Claire would offer three round trips per day: one early in the morning; one around 11 a.m.; and one between 4 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., Schell said.
The commuter service would be an important link between UW-Stout, UW-Eau Claire, and Chippewa Valley Technical College, and also would be important because a certain number of people in Menomonie are employed in Eau Claire, she said.
Several Dunn County Board members wondered if a for-profit bus service offered commuter service.
One coach line that provides a shuttle service to the airport in the Twin Cities does travel between Menomonie and Eau Claire, Schell said.
The shuttle service to the airport would not offer travel times that would be convenient for regular travelers between Menomonie and Eau Claire, and the cost also would be prohibitive for regular travel at somewhere around $16 for a one-way ticket, she said.
The Dunn County Transit commuter service is expected to cost somewhere between $2 and $5, Schell said.
The transportation development plan is currently a draft but is close to being the final plan, Conklin told the county board.
The plan is not binding, and how it is implemented will be based on the amount of money available for the Dunn County Transit budget and what will actually work once the routes start, he said.
Implementing a transportation plan is done “in pieces,” Conklin said.
The best way to approach it is to start one bus route, work out the problems and perfect the route and then start another bus route, he said.
The plan is flexible and can be adapted to the budget and to changing demographics, Schell said.
Earlier in the meeting, Conklin gave the Dunn County Transit Commission’s second annual report.
In 2010, Dunn County transit logged 30,000 bus trips (a trip is defined as one person going to a destination).
In 2012, the service logged 111,117 bus trips.
Dunn County Transit has experienced a 30 percent increase in ridership since last year, and on December 12, the transit service had its first “1,000 trip day,” Conklin said.
By the Wednesday evening meeting of the Dunn County Board, the bus service had logged two “1,000 trip days” that week already, he said.
Dunn County Transit offers fixed route service and demand-response service in Menomonie, but does not offer charter bus service, Conklin noted.
An “explosion of Baby Boomers” will mean an increased need for bus service in Dunn County, he said.
To track the location of Dunn County Transit buses at any time, visit www.dunnride.com.