Moving Forward Together to Impact Transportation

An excerpt from the Arrive Together report shows multiple people holding signs saying “I heart my bus ride” or “I heart public transit.”

Stories from around the state illustrate the necessity for affordable, accessible transportation. One in six Milwaukee households does not have access to a car, and half of DVR clients and trainees in other workforce development programs do not have driver’s licenses. According to Barbara Pfarr, the Transit Task Force Chair at WISDOM, by 2020, the three suburban counties surrounding Milwaukee will have around 57,000 new jobs. Despite many potential workers in this urban center, a lack of public transportation options link the large city to its suburbs. Without these numerous potential employees, the three surrounding counties will have only about 10,000 new workers to fill available jobs.

It is a similar story in Wausau. The bus that used to connect the city to towns Weston, Rothschild and Scofield has been eliminated. The transit system currently only serves the city of Wausau, and it leaves important places (like the DMV, where people can get voter IDs) inaccessible to riders. Wausau transit riders are cut off from jobs, healthcare, shopping, and other aspects of community life. Situations like these crop up all over the state. Transportation needs to improve to ensure a more equitable future for everyone.

The Council strives for a collaborative approach in advocacy. One way it collaborates with other groups and individuals is through coalition work. In 2016, the Council joined the Coalition for more Responsible Transportation in Wisconsin. Learn why transportation advocacy is important, what the coalition does, and how to become involved.

Why is Transportation Advocacy Important?

  1. A transportation system comprising multiple modes of travel enables all of us to remain social, retain jobs and participate in our communities.
  2. A functional transportation system allows people to get to work and can strengthen local economies within communities.
  3. A strong public transportation system reduces fuel emissions and is better for the environment, creating better health for us and for our world.
  4. Transportation which crosses municipal boundaries is critical for people to travel between counties, particularly in rural areas.

Did You Know? The state has not increased investment in public transportation systems for over fifteen years. According to a Wisconsin transportation survey done by the Survival Coalition of Wisconsin Disability Groups, more than 40% of respondents said they do not have access to public transportation in their communities.

“Access to transportation impacts all people,” says Denise Jess, CEO/Executive Director at the Council. “Accessible and affordable transportation benefits those who are economically challenged, people with disabilities and our elders. It benefits those who choose to not drive and helps preserve our environmental resources.”

What is the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation in Wisconsin?

Students get onto a bus on the UW-Milwaukee campus.

The statewide coalition supports affordable and accessible transportation that connects people to employment, healthcare and community life. It advocates for responsible land use by promoting public transportation projects serving multiple travelers.

Diversity of membership adds to the success and broad perspective of the coalition. Its 25 member organizations represent various needs throughout the state. Causes range from environmental concerns, to advocacy for people who are aging or who have disabilities, to the decrease of poverty and incarceration in the state. Six organizations play a leadership role in the coalition: Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, Sierra Club, WISPIRG, 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, WISDOM (and its affiliates), and Chippewa Valley Transit Alliance.

“I enjoy being a member because it multiplies my individual efforts,” says Barbara Pfarr, of WISDOM affiliate SOPHIA. “A lot is accomplished through collaboration. I am a senior citizen and I know I will not be able to drive forever. I want to continue living a full life. Advocating for affordable and accessible transportation is important to me.”

In a Nutshell, What Does the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation in Wisconsin Do?

The group released the “Arrive Together: Transportation Access and Equity in Wisconsin” report in October 2018. It provides public transportation use and needs-assessment data for nine communities: Eau Claire, Fox Cities, Hayward, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Racine, Waukesha, and Wausau. The report has gotten a lot of press coverage, and City of Madison officials use data from it when discussing future transportation projects. The report served as the basis for creating a story bank for people to share experiences around public transportation. Find the full report at sierraclub.org.

Stories of public transportation riders are gathered by the coalition. The accounts document how the lack of affordable, accessible transportation impacts people who need healthcare, employers, job-seekers and communities. These experience narratives can be used to advocate for better, more accessible transportation systems.

Coalition members meet with legislators and advocate on behalf of those with transportation needs. Members promote call-in days, encouraging Wisconsin residents to contact legislators in support of the need for affordable, accessible public transportation.

“We are seeing a shift in the transportation narrative,” says Cassie Steiner, Campaign Coordinator for Sierra Club’s Wisconsin Chapter. “The press has started referring to public transportation as a necessary way to get around. Some legislators who were anti-public transportation have stepped back from that position. These results speak to the power of our work and the growth of this movement. We hope our efforts continue to strengthen the trend going forward.”

When the transportation goals of the coalition are fully realized, everyone benefits. These achievements would bring about a connected and hopeful future.

“We would have inter-community transportation,” says Denise. “Everyone would be able to get where they need to go in order to live a full and fulfilling life.”

What Can I Do Right Now?

Become involved with transportation in your community. A new transportation-related grants program released by the Department of Transportation now exists to help fund local initiatives. Reach out to your local officials (mayors, town chair people, alders and city/town board representatives) to be sure they are aware of the grants program. When sharing the information, provide a concrete suggestion that would enhance transit in your area. Pedestrian needs, such as accessible pedestrian signals, may also be covered by this grant. Learn about the program at wisconsindot.gov.

Follow the Coalition for More Responsible Transportation in Wisconsin on Facebook. On the Facebook page, action items and events are regularly promoted. Visit Facebook.com/CMRTWI to follow the page.

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