Eau Claire Public Transit ridership affected by COVID-19

Local News

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – Deemed as an essential business, Eau Claire Public Transit has been serving the community throughout the entirety of the pandemic.  First News at Nine’s Phoebe Murray looks at how COVID-19 has affected ridership numbers over the course of the year.

Public transit serves as a lifeline for many people to get from point A to point B.

The pandemic didn’t stop the buses, but it did change how passengers ride the buses.

Patti Freezy Eau Claire transit driver said, “The best thing has been through talking to people, and letting people know what we’re doing to put their mind at ease.”

Eau Claire transit driver of 12 years, Patty Freezy says after a tumultuous year, she’s starting to see the familiar faces of her regular passengers again.

“Which has been a really great thing because they’re a part of our lives and when you don’t see them for a while you wonder how they’ve been or if they’re okay, and they come back and say ‘we made it’, we’re making it,” said Freezy.

After Governor Tony Evers implemented the first safer-at-home order last march, buses were only allowing riders for essential medical, nutritional, and employment purposes.

Tom Wagener, Eau Claire Transit Manager said, “We were limited in our capacity in order to follow the CDC guidelines and the county guidelines at the time, to 10 people per bus.”

Once restrictions softened, Eau Claire Transit Manager Tom Wagener says the bus service took another hit when UW-Eau Claire moved to remote-learning, as 40 percent of ridership comes from college students.

“That’s one of the things the federal government recognizes the essential nature of public transit and the loss in revenue because not as many people are using it because they’re working from home,” said Wagener.

Buses are back up operating at 50 percent occupancy, allowing for 24 passengers on each of its 22-bus fleet.

Wagener says he isn’t sure what the future holds when it comes to public transportation.

Wagener said,” Once the pandemic is in our rear-view mirror as opposed to right in the midst of it, who knows what businesses are going to do, some think the business model is going to change.”

If nothing else, Wagener says the pandemic has revealed the essential nature of public transit in a community.

In Eau Claire, Phoebe Murray, First News at Nine.

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