WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - The demand for public transit routes to expand continues to grow. Thursday, at a forum organized by North Central Area Congregations Organized to Make an Impact (NAOMI), leaders shared their thoughts on the topic and what needs to be done to see the wish become reality.
“A good community takes care of those in need,” said Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke. “We are an aging population; it’s very true. You’re only one accident away or something happening to you, where you might have to rely on public transit.”
Mayor Mielke was joined by State Senator Jerry Petrowski, Representative Pat Snyder, and many others at the Jefferson Street Inn/City Grill for the forum, which NAOMI Treasurer and Transit Committee Chair Ron Alexander says was meant to provide a platform for one of the many justice issues that NAOMI deals with.
“For us, having access to public transit is a basic justice issue,” said Alexander. “The whole idea is to bring awareness, especially with ShopKo closing recently. There’s a lot of people who were dependent on ShopKo for their basic living needs; that would like to be able to get to Walmart or Target, and right now we don’t have transit service that goes there.”
Not only are those looking to shop at those areas forced to make other transportation accommodations, but those looking to work in the surrounding communities as well. Linda Cummings is a Wausau resident who's currently unemployed. The lack of routes to surrounding communities has forced her to pass up on several jobs.
“Many chances to get a job in the Rib Mountain area, Schofield area and further out even, but I can’t get there and I’ve lost those chances, so I’m very restricted,” said Cummings.
According to Mayor Mielke, the major setback keeping communities from accepting the transit program is funding, however, he says the tides may be beginning to turn.
“We hear from different businesses that the demand is there, that if it was utilized, there’s even been some businesses who have talked about possibly contributing,” Mielke added. “It’s been a slow process, but I am seeing some success.”
Alexander and the NAOMI group hope to use the momentum to continue to bring awareness to the issue and to focus on new ways to bring light to the transit system, including educating children on how it works.
“We’d like to organize a scavenger hunt, with school-age kids, and get support from the school system,” said Alexander. “The idea would be to have fun, to learn the possibilities of the transit.”