Transit center in need of face lift


Photo by Katy Macek

Story by Katy Macek, Staff Writer

When the Eau Claire Transit System’s transfer center was built in the 1980s, it was meant to be a temporary structure that would last roughly 10 years. More than 20 years later, the structure still functions, though not all are happy about it, said Mike Branco, the Eau Claire Transit manager.
The structure still gets the job done, but Branco said it does not leave a very good impression of the city because it is so run down. He said it’s not very well lit, the bathrooms are outdated and overall it gives a bad image to the public.
“The current center is, shall we say, not very eye-catching,” Branco said. “In some ways, that can be a deterrent for new people riding the bus.”
Right now, the city is in the process of planning and building a new transfer center, but government funding, which most transit systems rely on, is very hard to come by. This means City Council has to come up with money to plan, design and build the structure.
“We’ve got to find money to do that, we’ve got to think creatively to get ourselves an architectural plan in place,” Branco said.
UW-Eau Claire senior Kayla Menzie said she uses the bus every day, and wouldn’t mind seeing some changes to the transfer center.
“The one that’s here now gets the job done, but it’s kind of run down and it’s a little bit sketchy, especially at night,” Menzie said. “I think it’d be beneficial to have a new one.”
Eau Claire Councilman Andrew Werthmann said he believes it’s important for the city to begin working on this project now because of all the renovations currently going on downtown, including the Confluence Project.
“The whole idea is we know we’re going to have a lot of building downtown,” Werthmann said. “Before we really committed to both of those things we wanted to make sure the option of putting a transfer center in both of those areas has been explored.”
Werthmann said they could possibly hire professionals to look at four or five possible places and conduct studies to see whether those places meet a set of criteria. These criteria include; traffic patterns, room for buses and parking.
Werthmann and Bronco both said there are other reasons a new transfer system is necessary. Some of these reasons include the size of the buses, which barely fit in the current transfer center, as well as the bus system being a cheaper mode of transport for Eau Claire.
It is expensive for businesses to pay for parking for their employees, Werthmann said. If more employees used the transit system there would be less of a need for parking spaces.
“The other big piece of this is environmental,” Werthmann said. “The less vehicles we’re driving, the more people we’re putting on transit, the less fossil fuels are being burned.”
There are currently three hybrid buses running in the system, and Werthmann said the company hopes to invest in at least a couple more, as well as fix up the current buses to make them more environmentally friendly.
While they are still coming up with ways to get the money — if all goes well — Branco said the city should have a design in place by 2015, and hopes to secure funding for building by 2016.