Transit Commission recommends increase in passenger capacity on city buses

Published: Sep. 24, 2020 at 9:47 PM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Wausau’s Transit Commission voted 3-2 Thursday night in favor of recommending to the city council to increase the maximum number of passengers allowed on city buses if the Wausau School District goes back to in-person learning.

Right now, only 10 passengers are allowed on Metro buses so that passengers can maintain social distance and help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The Transit Commission did not provide a specific number that they would like to see be the new maximum, and are hoping that input from the Wausau School District will help in making that decision.

“I think the reason for that kind of vague motion was due to the fact we are hoping to get better information from the district,” explained Transit Commission Chairperson Becky McElhaney. “Are we talking only 15 kids per bus route? Then there isn’t that big of a situation. Are we talking about 40 kids per bus route, then maybe we need to pull back and decide something different.”

The Wausau School District was not able to provide NewsChannel 7 with a number of how many students within the district rely on the city bus system on Thursday night but said it will be able to on Friday.

In a previous interview with NewsChannel 7, transit director Greg Seubert stated that students make up around 50% of Metro Ride’s annual passenger base.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Seubert received an email from Dale Grosskurth, Environmental Health and Safety Director with the Marathon County Health Department. That email said in part, “If the decision is made to increase bus capacity limits, it will create circumstances that contribute to the spread of COVID-19.”

That warning, as well as guidelines provided by the CDC encouraging social distancing, are what lead commission member Jen Bizzotto to vote against Thursday’s recommendation.

“I really appreciate how we can all come together and have this conversation,” Bizzotto said. “All we have to go on these days are these CDC guidelines that we hear so much about. In my mind, I think the commission just has an obligation to do something to uphold those guidelines and to try to stick to those as best we can and I hope that the school board is trying to do the same.”

McElhaney understood why both Bizzotto and commission member Kathi Zoern voted against the recommendation, calling Thursday’s decision a “double-edged sword.”

“I will never tell anybody that they’re irresponsible in trying to follow guidelines,” McElhaney said. “There is no wrong decision either way. I weighted this as I weigh every decision and I felt that it was outweighed right now, kids being left at bus stops and that was worrisome to me.”

Again, while the specific number that the commission plans to recommend to the city council was not identified, union president and 16-year-bus driver Troy Hanson shared his thoughts at the meeting, saying that he would feel “sketchy” if the number was greater than 15.

When asked by alderperson Pat Peckham if the city would lose drivers should the number be increased, Hanson said no but that there would be a “loss of trust.”

This topic is expected to be discussed at the next Common Council meeting scheduled for October 13 at 6:30.

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