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Study: Wisconsin City Should Use On-Demand Vehicle Service

Among the recommendations contained in a 295-page Transit Development Plan given to the Eau Claire City Council is the idea of using a smartphone app and smaller vehicles to replace a bus serving the north side.

(TNS) — Instead of regular city buses on a route that gets few riders on weeknights and Saturdays, a new study says Eau Claire, Wis., could instead consider starting an on-demand public vehicle service.

Among the many recommendations contained in a 295-page Transit Development Plan presented Monday night to the Eau Claire City Council is the idea of using a smartphone app and smaller vehicles to replace a bus currently serving part of the north side.

"The user experience would be a lot like Uber or Lyft," said  Joseph Kapper , who served as project manager from consultant firm SRF on the transit study.

If the city eliminates Route 3/4, which runs on evenings and Saturdays and serves neighborhoods along Birch Street and near North Hastings Way, the new service would cover that area. Using an app, people could hail rides in a small bus or van that would operate between that north side zone and the downtown bus transfer station.

A cost estimate provided in the study stated there would be a $4,400 net cost for switching to the on-demand service for that route, but it would allow a city bus to be reassigned to serve more riders on another route.

Councilman  Jeremy Gragert , an outspoken advocate for public transportation, said an on-demand service will take a lot of research. He also said he prefers fixed-route bus service because it is predictable at where and when it will arrive.

Kapper said on-demand service is not intended to replace the reliable scheduling and high capacity of buses, but to augment traditional transit.

"You're trying to figure out how on-demand service could supplement a fixed-route service," he said.

Councilwoman  Emily Berge  said she's intrigued by the idea of the on-demand "microtransit" concept in the study, hoping that it would be up for further discussion.

The lengthy plan presented on Monday is a requirement the state of Wisconsin has for urban transit systems by making them look every five years at their current performance and ways they could improve. The City Council will vote at its 4 p.m. meeting today on whether it will adopt the plan.

"It does not bind the city into performing any of the recommendations in the plan, but it is a guiding tool for the transit division and city Transit Commission," said  Tom Wagener , city transit manager.

The Eau Claire Transit Commission will meet next week to discuss its 2021 work plan, he added, and the five-year plan will be key to that discussion.

One of the first recommendations Wagener saw in the study that he expects will be addressed is changes to a bus route that serves parts of the neighboring city of Altoona.

The study envisions eliminating the current route to Altoona and creating a new one with stops added in the River Prairie development, by apartment buildings on Devney Drive and a stop at the Hillcrest Estates mobile home park.

Dean Roth , a member of Altoona's Plan Commission, saw a presentation on the proposed route and offered his support to it. He spoke at Monday night's Eau Claire City Council meeting to say the changes would be good for parts of his city that sees as underserved by public transit.

(c)2020 the Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Wis.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.