Advocates call for investments in public transit

Transit Equity Day is an annual national event around Rosa Park's birthday

Wisconsin Avenue, Downtown Milwaukee, Public Transit
Gretchen Brown/WPR

Advocates for public transit in Wisconsin gathered in Oshkosh and Madison on Monday asking for investments in safe and reliable transportation systems.

The local events were in coordination with a national day of action organized for Transit Equity Day by the Labor Network for Sustainability. The event is held annually on or around civil rights activist Rosa Parks’ birthday on Feb. 4.

Demonstrators met at a closed bus stop on University Avenue in downtown Madison calling for the city to adequately support local buses as the rapid transit system expands.

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The Transit Network Redesign project, implemented last summer, expanded access to service, according to Tom Lynch, Madison Transportation Director. The project included a Bus Rapid Transit system, set to be fully operational in the fall of 2024.

To make the new system more efficient, some bus stops along one route have closed, worrying transit advocates.

“BRT service should enhance rather than be at the expense of local routes,” Wisconsin Transit Riders Alliance said in a statement.

Advocates across the state ask for investments in public transportation

Susan De Vos, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin Transit Riders Alliance, helped organize the demonstration in Madison. She is concerned that as stops are spaced further apart in the new rapid system, people with mobility issues will have to travel further to board the bus.

“Public transit is a civil right that is supposed to serve everyone,” De Vos said.

The alliance also asked for more public funding for transit projects, more access for people with disabilities and better working conditions for people in transit-related jobs.

A poster reading “Thank you drivers” was available for bus riders to sign as a symbol of appreciation at the Downtown Transit Center in Oshkosh on Monday.

Deb Martin hosted the Oshkosh event as a part of Transit Equity Day to gather input from riders and show appreciation for drivers. Martin said she is advocating for expanded routes and hours, especially to accommodate third-shift workers. Right now, buses run from 6:15 a.m. until 6:45 p.m. six days a week.

“Transportation is a root cause of some of the poverty and the need in our state and really everywhere,” Martin said. “If they can have better transportation, they could improve the job they go to.”

The city of La Crosse celebrated Transit Equity Day with events throughout the last week in January including free fares on the La Crosse Municipal Transit Utility.

Riders in Oshkosh show bus drivers appreciation on Transit Advocacy Day. Photo courtesy of Deb Martin

Expanding public transit could lower carbon emissions

The Sierra Club joined the Labor Network for Sustainability and other partners on Monday to advocate for public transportation.

Cassie Steiner, senior campaign coordinator with Sierra Club- Wisconsin Chapter, said transportation has a “huge impact” on climate, land use and equity.

“Our transportation priorities have been a mess in Wisconsin for quite a long time,” they said.

Steiner would like to see money allocated away from highway expansion projects and towards public transportation projects.

“Expanding transit in many places isn’t even a thought. It’s, how do we keep transit running? So, our transit systems are in really dire shape in the state, and readjusting where we’re putting funding can make a huge difference,” Steiner said.

Her hope is that increased public transportation will benefit those who rely on it and also encourage new people to try it.

Martin said she hopes public transportation advocacy continues year-round.

“At least we have one day that we especially set aside and say ‘thank you’ as we work to make improvements the rest of the year,” Martin said.

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