Bus Buddies Are a Big Help in La Crosse Transit

Posted on 04/12/24

La Crosse bus.jpg

By Mike Murphy – AARP volunteer, Onalaska

As an AARP volunteer in La Crosse for over five years I have looked at aging and disabilities through several lenses. Notably, transportation has been a significant challenge during the pandemic, weather, and mobility, with and without assistive devices.

Recently after meeting with Darrin from AARP Wisconsin and Cathy, a volunteer with La Crosse Area Transit (LATA), I latched onto the idea of providing a transit guide (bus buddy) – someone who could assist a novice with navigating rides on the MTU buses in La Crosse, Shelby, Onalaska, Town of Campbell, and La Crescent.

Larry W. and I agreed between ourselves to ride on an MTU route from Onalaska to La Crosse. We would view our experience as a look into the option of public busing playing a larger role in public transit moving people from point A to Point B.

We live in Onalaska, so I checked the MTU Double Map on my cell phone. This app is freely accessible on MTU’s website. This digital map will be no longer useful after this summer, but a new app will take its place. Riders need not have a digital map, but can get information from a free glossy-paper foldout schedule loaded with route information, and suggestions for how to get the ride that suits your needs. Key services provided are: safety, accessibility, affordability, and convenience.

The number 9 bus makes stops through Onalaska on Main St. and out to Woodman’s and box stores along the way. Wait times are longer for this bus so we chose to ride by car to Valley View Mall and catch the number 5 bus. The bus stop is behind the mall. Both 9 and 5 will stop on the backside of the mall. During the week busses around La Crosse stop every 20 min.

Shortly after arriving at the bus stop, we boarded the #5. As a senior I qualify for and have a senior transit pass that allows me to ride for $.75 and avoid the $1.50 regular fare. Checkout the availability of this and other passes at the transit station in downtown La Crosse.

I have ridden urban, coaches, and regional busses from the sixties to present day. Today’s buses provide accommodations only dreamed about 50+ years ago. On the MTU bus we road in March of 2024 all passengers were seated and anyone needing an accommodation, say for a walker, wheelchair, or otherwise mobile challenged is accommodated. A mechanical ramp is extended for riders unable to step up. Bicyclists can attach bikes to a carrier on the front of the bus. MTU drivers have training on assisting riders with their needs.

Good thing that Larry is observant and talkative. I ride a bus while canceling out much of my surroundings. I heard from Larry about the advertisements in three languages, surveillance cameras fore and aft. Seats are provided for convenience, easy cleaning, and in good repair with little padding.

The driver is shielded from behind and occasionally carries on conversations or answers riders’ questions. I use quarters when I ride, some passengers have a card that can be read and fares captured wirelessly. Next stops are announced by a recording over a speaker system that is difficult for my ears to hear. Noise from the mechanics of the bus, talking passengers, and significant bumps along a route pretty well make the recording audible to only a few riders. I was pleased that along the route we made stops very close to the schedule naming places and times.

I am not certain if with more stops and more people getting on and off the bus the bus can sustain its timeliness, even with a minute or two delay with a break for the driver or even a spell for waiting at the transit station for other buses to arrive and depart the on-time discipline can be extended. This bus moved quickly from the VV Mall to the Grand River Station.

We chose to ride next on the South Ave. bus to the far southside, into Shelby. And away we went as scheduled. Besides workers, students, and shoppers, there are those whose purpose for riding the bus may be medical appointments or visiting relatives, friends, or acquaintances. The busses get used to varying purposes. Mornings and evenings are the busiest as observed by our next driver on the Apple Express.

We learned that the small bus is supported by the City of La Crescent as a means of providing a connection for its Minnesota residents with the Wisconsin City of La Crosse and neighboring communities.

Besides the buses being timely, they access a high number of neighborhoods. Getting to specific destinations may be arranged ahead of time, special needs riders should call the MTU number provided in the map/pamphlet or website and make a request.

After dark buses will stop at corners close to a destination though there may not be a bus stop present. That should be worked out with the driver beforehand.

While Larry and I are reasonably able-bodied and have vehicles for getting us to where we want to go, travelling by bus provides a viable option for times when we do not want to drive and cabs are booked. Lives change and our need to connect with other places importance on the availability of buses.

Hiring a private cab is still an option for many people and may well be covered by insurance. If you or someone you know might consider being a bus buddy assisting people in finding their way on a bus, contact La Crosse Area Transit Advocates (see below) for learning more.

Caring for others is a responsibility and honor. Helping a loved one or neighbor find the means to get around town can be done best by understanding the options and planning and trying a means of transportation to learn how effective it is.

Keeping public options viable for people wanting bus service is necessary as it allows a diverse population like ours to get around and makes our communities more livable.

For more information on local transit options contact: ADRC of La Crosse County (Senior Life monthly bulletin on page 2) or call 608-785-5700. For info about La Crosse Area Transit Advocates checkout their web page: LaCrosseTransitAdvocates.org; LaCrosseTransitAdvocates@proton.me; or 608-315-2693. For info about livable communities see: AARP.org.

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