Public transportation use by UWO staff, students reaches all-time high

For the past year and six months, Kate McQuillan has traded her 25 minute commute to work for an hour-long bus ride. She then convinced some co-workers to do the same.

“I realize it takes a little longer to use the bus as opposed to using my own car,” said McQuillan, a program assistant in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh provost’s office. Every day, she boards a GO Transit bus in Neenah before 7 a.m., rides to the transfer station in downtown Oshkosh, boards a new bus heading to campus and arrives at work by 8 a.m. She rides the same route in reverse each evening.

“But, I think the benefits exceed the costs,” she said. “Time on the bus is time for me. I use the phone. I listen to music. I read books. Do puzzles. I can really use the time.”

The number of university students and staff who, like McQuillan, rely on GO Transit, the city’s public transportation system, is growing. Last year, they took nearly 102,000 rides on city buses, setting a record at 18 percent more rides than in 2011 and 36 percent more than 2010, according to figures provided by the transit system.

University leaders encourage use of public transportation to further the campus’ mission of environmental sustainability while also reducing congestion in campus parking lots and on roads. UWO began offering free bus rides to its students and staff in 2000. Since then, ridership has more than tripled.

UWO has been a boon to GO Transit, which took a hit during the economic recession when ridership plunged in 2008 and 2009. The transit system has since ramped up efforts to improve its stature in the community.

Transportation Director Chris Strong said the campus acts as a backbone for the system by providing constant money and riders.

UWO reimburses Go Transit for every ride given to a student or staff member holding a university ID card. The university must pay a minimum of $55,000 but no more than $75,000, according to their contract. UWO paid the maximum fee in 2012 and accounted for 14 percent of Go Transit’s total revenue, according to figures provided byStrong.

“It’s really important because we look at the University as a major activity hub in the community. People work there. Many students go there to take classes, and students living on campus want to take advantage of the rest of the community,” Strong said. “It provides us with a solid customer base.”

In order to boost ridership in recent years, the bus system re-branded itself from the Oshkosh Transit System to Go Transit, added bike racks on buses and created a route planner service, among other efforts, Strong said.

Overall use of the city’s buses has grown, but at a lesser rate than it has among UWO students and staff. The number of non-UWO rides rose 9 percent between 2010 and 2012, the transit figures show.

City buses logged a total of 987,883 rides in 2012, up from 885,514 in 2010. UWO students and staff made up 10 percent of those rides.

“There are a lot of people who ask me the question regularly about GO Transit, in general saying nobody rides it. Well, we had a million rides last year, and we had a million rides in 2011,” City Manager Mark Rohloff said.

He said he believes UWO sets an example to others that public transportation is a viable, sustainable option for the general public.

One of the regular riders is Jessica Cleier, an assistant in the university’s human resources department. She began using the bus while she was still a student at UWO five years ago.

“When you’re a student, it’s very hard to get into the lottery to have a car on campus, and knowing there was a bus available really eased mine and my parents’ minds,” Cleier said.

Now, Cleier said she uses the bus as an employee because it’s free and it saves her from buying the gas to drive daily from her home in Menasha.

“I also do it for the environment. I like knowing there is one less car on the highway,” she said.

Author: Adam Rodewald

Source: The NorthWestern.com

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