FOND DU LAC (NBC 26) — Fond du Lac is kicking off the new year with changes to its bus routes, namely routes 25, 55 and 70. The city said these changes were made after surveying riders, drivers and other community members.
Route 55 will now bring riders to Pioneer Road, west of I-41. That could spell good news for riders like Julie Phillips, who is legally blind and can’t drive. She said she’s looking forward to taking the expanded route.
“I think it’s very nice because it’s more convenient for those of us who can’t drive. . . I’m so grateful for the bus routes,” Phillips said.
And the new route will also have economic implications, according to transit specialists at SRF, a consulting firm Fond du Lac hired to develop their transit plan.
“There have been new businesses coming in, that aren't well connected to the transit network as it existed,” Matthew Stegeman, a transit planner with SRF said.
Kim Bernthal has been a bus driver in Fond du Lac for 16 years and said she’s noticed other needs of the community changing.
“We have a lot of new students riding the bus,” Bernthal said. “I would say the high cost of fuel is one of the issues. So parents are saying ‘you aren’t riding the car, you’re riding the bus!’”
Fond du Lac Transit Manager Lynn Gilles said this year, there might be an extra 30 or more students waiting for the bus, compared to previous years.
“You always see an uptick in bus demand when gas prices go up,” Gilles said.
In response, the city changed Route 25, adding a third bus traveling to Fond du Lac High School during peak hours when students are traveling to and from school.
“We would never want to leave kids at a bus stop and who might need to wait for the next bus, especially when it's cold out or the weather's bad,” Fond du Lac City Manager Joseph Moore said. “They're like everybody else. They have a schedule. They want to get from point A to point B on that schedule and don't want to be left behind.”
The city also got rid of Route 70, which ran twice a day to the city’s northwest side. Gilles said this was due to low ridership.
“We had a 75% decline in usage on that [route],” Gilles said. “And I'm sure some of it was COVID, but we found alternatives for our regular riders for Route 70.”
Gilles said those alternatives include Handivan Services, which transport individuals with disabilities or those over 65 years old.
But to further serve riders looking to travel outside the current bus routes, the city is looking to implement a MicroTransit plan.
Some cities, like Green Bay, already have a MicroTransit system. It allows riders to call or use an app to reserve rides in areas not covered by bus routes, or when the buses aren’t running. In Fond du Lac, the public buses only run during the weekdays, and the latest bus doesn’t run past 7 p.m.
“The number one thing we heard was that evening and weekend service, the time of day that Fond du Lac Area Transit operates being insufficient for some of the demands that are out there,” Joseph Kapper, Senior Manager of Transit Planning and Design with SRF Consulting, said.
But city officials said it could be months to years before the MicroTransit system begins because the city will need to collect additional data, design the system and obtain funding.
“It's too early to say how much it will cost or when we would implement it,” Moore said. “There are so many variations on how to do it and different vendors who help provide it.”
The city also wants to build a new downtown transit facility. The current facility is a small shelter with a few benches and a map of the routes. The new shelter would feature more amenities, though the city is still developing a plan.
“This is where your riders and your drivers would both take a break, grab something from a vending machine, stop and get warm,” Gilles said.
Gilles said she hopes these changes will improve rider experience.
“It’s great when we see our riders get excited about what they can do, and the convenience that gives them,” Gilles said.