Why They Are Important and How You Can Advocate for Them
An image of a city bus, designed as a computer graphic.
You’ve just gotten an offer for a new job. The company is located in an area not served by your local transit system. As someone who doesn’t drive, how will you get to work? Your options are to call a cab, arrange a carpool with a friend or coworker, contact a family member for help, or decline the job altogether. Could a better solution be put in place to avoid the expense and hassle of these options? The answer could be the establishment of a Regional Transit Authority.
A Regional Transit Authority (RTA) enables planning for multimodal transit projects and can generate funding to support them. It is a quasi-governmental entity which provides a governance structure for a unified transportation system and has taxing authority. They also offer a funding alternative to property taxes. RTAs allow for a regional and comprehensive look at transportation, enabling a group of municipalities to develop a transit system which spans the entire region. This would provide public transportation to events and businesses which are not located in your immediate area, and benefits the whole community including businesses, services and events.
“Today, what we are often seeing is that political boundaries put a limit on where transit can go,” says Ash Narayanan, Director of Transportation Policy at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. “The transit system ends at the political boundary. An RTA enables many different communities to come together, and dissolves all of these artificial boundaries.”
How an RTA operates depends on the authority given them by the state’s legislature. Currently, Wisconsin State Law doesn’t allow them to exist. In general, RTAs are managed by an elected board with taxing authority. They are funded through a variety of taxes and fees to include property, sales, wheel taxes, roadway fees and tolls, among others.
For people with disabilities and those who are reliant on public transportation, an RTA enables them to take part in the greater community as a whole by eliminating political and municipal boundaries for transportation systems. When they can get from municipality to municipality, opportunities to access employment, healthcare and recreation give them independence and access to a higher quality of life.
RTAs allow for the creation of different modes of transit, which have other benefits as well. RTA modes of transit have much lower carbon emissions than individual cars, decrease traffic congestion, reduce traffic crashes, and lessen housing costs. Forms of transportation included in RTAs most commonly are buses and light rail systems.
“When you put in a bus line, property values go up,” says Ash. “More shops and businesses open up along the bus line. Public transportation provides many economic and health benefits in addition to environmental benefits.”
In 2009, the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, comprised of Kenosha, Milwaukee, and Racine counties, was terminated. In that same year, authorizations to create the Chequamegon Bay Transit Authority and the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority were repealed. In the 2011 budget, the state legislature dissolved a Dane County RTA that would have allowed a half-cent sales tax to fund a larger and more comprehensive Metro Transit system. In the 2015-2016 biennium, a bill to create a Fox Valley RTA did not pass, although it had strong bipartisan support. Currently, there is a bill to form a Chippewa Valley RTA.
You as a citizen of your community can take actionable steps to advocate for legislation that enables RTAs to exist in Wisconsin.
“Talk with legislators about the need for RTAs, educating them about what the importance and benefits of RTAs would be,” says Steve Johnson, who serves on the Council’s Executive Committee 1st Vice President and is the Social Service Specialist at the Aging and Disability Resource Center of La Crosse County. “Everything begins with education. If you’re passionate about transportation, get involved. Become an active member in your community. Educate yourself about what’s going on and you’ll be able to educate others.”
Get involved in your community’s transportation planning process early. Municipalities are supposed to gather feedback from their constituents in order to create transit that benefits everyone. Go to public hearings and ask how they will utilize the feedback gathered there.
There are 75 public transit systems in the state of Wisconsin, and 45-50 of these are in rural communities. No matter the size of your community, getting involved will help your voice to be heard. That is why Ash adds that it is so important to become active in the transportation planning process in your local community.
“Keep an eye on the Department of Transportation or your city’s website,” Ash urges. “Talk to engineers in your region. It’s important to work in the community to build a strong coalition of like-minded people to talk to legislators. We have a long way to go in the state, but calling local representatives is going to make a difference. They will record your calls. Having forums to bring in elected representatives do have an impact, because you can educate them about why RTA’s are so important and necessary.”
1000 Friends of Wisconsin hosted a transportation conference in Madison on September 25, 2017 at the Monona Terrace. Council CEO/Executive Director Denise Jess spoke, focusing on transportation as an equity issue. She shared the session with Madison Alder Maurice Cheeks. Together, they addressed how accessible and affordable transportation benefits people with disabilities and those who are economically disenfranchised and the larger community economically and socially.
“Another critical way to show that public transit is important to us is to ride the bus,” Denise says. “If we’re not riding the bus, we’re invisible. Community planners base their designs on data they collect about ridership, so it’s important to make use of the systems that are in place to demonstrate the need.”
Most counties are currently undergoing transportation coordination planning for 8521 specialized transportation services. Development of the transportation coordination plan requires public input, and is a great place to be involved in the planning process for all types of transportation services. Visit http://wisconsindot.gov/Pages/doing-bus/local-gov/astnce-pgms/transit/compliance/coord.aspx for more information about the coordination planning process.
Editor’s Note: We would like to thank Ash Narayanan, Transportation Policy Director at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, and Carrie Porter, Transportation and Volunteer Specialist at Greater WI Agency on Aging Resources, Inc., for providing resources, edits and feedback in the creation of this article.
Three women who are visually impaired work with sighted guides as they take aim with at target with their bows and arrows. Archery is just one of many activities offered at Wisconsin Lions Camp. Carol Kaster is not featured in this image.
Photo courtesy of www.wisconsinlionscamp.org.
A combination of adaptive equipment from The Sharper Vision Store and an empowering experience at Lion’s Camp is helping Carol Kaster come to terms with her vision loss.
Carol, 71, of Friendship, Wisconsin, has lost most of her vision since December 2016. Right away, she sought services and found adaptive equipment to help her live her daily life. Her search led her to The Sharper Vision Store at the Council.
“I’ve been balancing the checkbook and managing the taxes for 52 years,” she says, “and now I can’t do that myself anymore. It’s important to learn how to do things non-visually, so that if something happens, you can still function.”
Carol purchased many products at the Sharper Vision Store, including a CCTV, talking clock, talking thermostat, wallet with separate sections for each money denomination, color identifier, different colored pairs of sunglasses, white cane, tactile dots for labeling and a stamp to serve as her signature.
Despite having all these products, Carol says she still didn’t feel as confident about being a person dealing with vision loss until she attended Lion’s Camp in September 2017. At camp, she attended cooking, technology and braille classes. Outdoor activities such as swimming were also offered. Carol says she was able to watch her fellow campers grow and become eager to try new things. She shared one story of a camper who used sighted guide everywhere, but by the end of camp, was walking places on her own using her cane.
“It was wonderful to be around so many other people with different levels of vision loss,” she says. “Everyone was at a different place in their lives and their degrees of acceptance of their vision issues. We were also taught by people who had low or no vision, and I found their accomplishments astounding and inspiring. I might feel like the only visually impaired person in Adams County, but I know I’m not alone anymore.”
Carol says she is using her newfound confidence to solve problems and try more adaptive techniques.
“Every day there’s frustration and impatience, but I’m trying new things and finding the tools that work well for me.”
Carol says she would recommend Lion’s Camp for anyone experiencing vision loss.
“I could see a benefit to everyone who came. I’m signing up to go in 2018. They said they’ll have zip-lining available, and I’ve always wanted to try that.”
For more information about Lions Camp, go to: https://www.wisconsinlionscamp.com/
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Samuel Sosa poses with his WCBVI Scholarship Award Certificate at the Annual Awards and Scholarship Luncheon this past May.
Council Scholarship recipient Samuel Sosa says if he had a mission statement for his life, it would be to use his blindness to inspire others.
Samuel has been totally blind since birth. He says that through his can-do attitude, he is confident in achieving his goals. With the use of adaptive techniques and tools such as braille and a white cane, and the assistance of adaptive technology such as the BrailleNote, he seeks to do all that he can to help make the world a better place.
Samuel is a freshman at UW-Waukesha this year. Although Samuel hasn’t chosen a major yet, he knows he wants to study writing. He says he enjoys creating other worlds through his words. His goal is to become a published author.
“I am very thankful for the scholarship from the Council,” Samuel says. “I want to learn to be the best writer I can be, and this scholarship helps me focus on school so I can do that.”
In his free time, in addition to writing fiction, Samuel says he likes to swim. He especially enjoys swimming in his grandparents’ pool during the summer.
An Old Dog Learns New Tricks:
Sometimes Technology Empowers
By Katherine Schneider
Katherine Schneider stands in front of a group while speaking at Chippewa Valley Technical College. She is at the front of a large classroom and is standing behind a podium. Behind her on a large screen is a PowerPoint display.
I’m sixty-eight, totally blind and retired, so I thought I’d sneak through life without ever having to do a PowerPoint presentation. But I’ll be doing a talk on Wisconsin Public Television and everybody else does theirs with a PowerPoint, so I reluctantly decided I’d do one. I had no trouble preparing the text for the slides, but I wanted it to “pop” as a sighted friend described it. Luckily this friend volunteered to do so for free, although some chocolate did change hands.
Next I had to figure out how to show the PowerPoint. I didn’t want to be trying to use someone else’s technology (which might or might not be accessible to me) to show it. I decided to number slides and ask an audience member to use the slide clicker for me. I’d ring a bell and state the number of the slide I wanted. The method worked perfectly and didn’t seem to distract the audience. The presentation is on Being Access Able, so it made a great example of asking for help and people being willing to make accommodations.
Getting ready for a White Cane Day celebration we’re having in Eau Claire gave me the justification I’d been looking for to buy a beeping ball. I needed it for outdoor games, but it costs $40. It’s low tech, just a battery and a beeper inside a soft, spongy ball. After the event, I’ll donate it where grandparents can check it out to play with grandkids, kids can play catch whether they have a visual impairment or not, etc. Once families know it’s out there, they can consider buying or approach a civic club like Lions International about funding a ball for them.
The new iPhone app that’s garnering a good bit of attention in the blindness community is Seeing AI. It’s a free app designed by Microsoft for I-devices. It takes a picture of text or bar codes and then reads it aloud. The entertaining part is that it will also take pictures of people and scenes. For people, it will tell you their age, gender and expression. It’s not perfect. I’ve been everything from a 77 year-old female to a 55 year-old male (after I got a haircut). It’s providing a good bit of hilarity at gatherings and sparking some interesting discussions about what artificial intelligence can do nowadays and how humans feel about it.
My reactions to this app and another one that described the recent eclipse are: bring it on! No app will be perfect and make my experience of the world be the same as a sighted person’s, but they add something to my experience. A beeping ball, an app or ability to do PowerPoint expands my choices which means empowerment in the technology field. I’ll still choose to rely on sighted friends’ reports to tell me if something “pops”.