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Eau Claire Transit on a Roll

bus system moving into future with new efforts

Eric Koeppel, photos by Andrea Paulseth

YES, THE WHEELS REALLY DO GO ’ROUND AND ’ROUND. In February Eau Claire Transit unveiled three mural-wrapped buses, including this one.
YES, THE WHEELS REALLY DO GO ’ROUND AND ’ROUND. In February Eau Claire Transit unveiled three mural-wrapped buses, including this one.

The folks who run the public buses around town are wasting no time in modernizing their services, rolling out several new initiatives and marketing strategies meant to add a little flair to your ride and ease your commute. An ambassador program, Wi-Fi on the bus, a handy mobile app, and a route to Menomonie are all on the horizon for Eau Claire’s transit system.

AMBASSADOR SEARCH

Eau Claire Transit wants you to be a spokesperson for public transportation (yes, you!), and is looking for volunteers to serve as ambassadors for the city’s bus service. These ambassadors will be involved in community outreach and marketing campaigns, attend sporadic meetings and interact with commuters.

The recruiting process is still in the works, but soon a brief application will be available for those who want to volunteer. The transit system hopes to eventually develop a pool of ambassadors and create a “training and honor system” in order to personally assist riders with navigating bus routes, says Transit Manager Mike Branco. According to Branco the goal of the project is to break down some barriers and help people make the choice to ride the bus. Soon those who are new to the transit system will be able to have someone help them get familiar with it.

SURFING ON THE BUS

Making public transportation sound cool might seem like a daunting task, but flying under the radar are Eau Claire Transit’s flashy new additions, which include hybrid buses featuring local artists’ work on the outside and free Wi-Fi on all buses by September. In fact, one Wi-Fi-equipped hybrid is already running routes 5 and 15.

The Wi-Fi is made possible by a WiMAX grant Eau Claire recently received. Through a closed network, hotspots on the buses will be able to pull in signals via magnets. This technology is similar to that which is currently being used by the police department. The purchase order has already been submitted for hotspot hardware on all 22 buses, costing $7,500, and city personnel will begin installing them this summer. Soon enough, #RidingTheBus just might be the next trending term on Twitter. 

GOOGLING THE ROUTES

Eau Claire Transit is also jumping on the mobile bandwagon, working with Google Maps to help commuters find the closest bus stop, know where to transfer, and check travel and arrival times on their phone in the Google app, making the waiting period for a bus shorter. That means less time spent outside in the unpredictable Wisconsin weather, which is always a good thing. Similar apps have made appearances in larger cities across the state, including Madison and Milwaukee, and have been met with success.

THE MENOMONIE RIDE

On top of all of these additions, an intercity bus route between Eau Claire and Menomonie is also in the works and will begin on Sept. 1. That’s right, Dunn County Transit buses will be running the express route on U.S. 12 from UW-Stout’s clock tower to Eau Claire on weekdays, making two stops in Elk Mound as well. The bus will run three times daily with a $2.50 fare one way, and the travel time will be roughly 30 minutes.

Exactly where Dunn County Transit will connect with the Eau Claire public bus system is yet to be determined, but Branco expects that a new city bus stop off the North Crossing on the northwest side will likely become the connection point.

Holy cow, now that’s quite a load of good news for bus riders, and hopefully some incentive for non-riders to start taking advantage of Eau Claire’s growing transit system.