Monday, September 24, 2018

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Shuttle bus operator to city: You’re killing my business

Late-Night Safe Ride will end this weekend due to planned ordinance changes, owner says

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    UW-Eau Claire sophomore Rob Nguyen speaks Thursday during a roundtable discussion at the university about possibly being fined for a house party. The talk centered on proposed changes to the city’s public good order ordinance. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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    Eau Claire police Lt. Greg Weber answers questions from students during a roundtable discussion Thursday at UW-Eau Claire on proposed changes to the city’s public good order ordinance. Panelists told students the changes aim to lessen destructive behavior related to alcohol use citywide.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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The operator of a late-night bus service that shuttles UW-Eau Claire students between campus, Water Street and downtown will discontinue that service, citing proposed ordinance changes that would negatively affect his service.

Tom Klatt, owner of Right Way Shuttle, will stop operating his Late-Night Safe Ride service starting this weekend because of the potential changes, he said Thursday afternoon in an interview with the Leader-Telegram. His overall company will continue to operate, he said.

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to the process and procedure,” Klatt said, noting he’d never heard complaints about his late-night shuttle service before the proposal’s introduction. “I don’t need an ordinance. Come talk to me.”

Under the proposal scheduled for a City Council vote March 13, buses and vehicles such as Klatt’s Late-Night Safe Ride would be barred from dropping off 10 or more people on a city block of the Third Ward and Randall Park neighborhoods between 9 p.m. and 3 a.m. The citywide proposal also would allow police officers to issue citations to people yelling, disturbing or annoying others, being publicly intoxicated, or loitering in public or private places. The proposal comes in the form of amendments to the city’s existing public good order ordinance, which was adopted in 1953.

Klatt made his decision after a university roundtable Thursday about ordinance changes that drew a large audience of about 150 students. Students expressed worry that the updates will negatively affect transportation and their safety. Roundtable panelists told students the changes aim to lessen destructive behavior related to alcohol use citywide.

“Eau Claire has a problem with alcohol,” said assistant city attorney Jenessa Stromberger, who drafted the ordinance updates. “That’s the long and short of it.”

Although the proposed changes would affect the entire city, there is still an implication for UW-Eau Claire students because a swath of student housing is located in the Randall Park neighborhood, located north of Water Street, where buses would have special restrictions.

At the roundtable, Stromberger, police Deputy Chief Chad Hoyord and police Lt. Greg Weber gave some examples of behavior the ordinance changes would target. Those include unwanted house guests resulting from large drop-offs from late-night buses, squad cars getting stuck behind late-night buses waiting to pick up riders and physical altercations between people who have had too much to drink.

While some people point out that buses could drop off nine people at each block as a way to dilute passengers, Klatt said he doesn’t know how he would regulate that.

“If someone wants to get off the bus,” Klatt said, “how do I restrain someone against their will from getting off my bus without me being fined?”

Students had questions about alternative transportation should late-night busing stop — the drop-off rules would not apply to Uber, taxis or Lyft — and whether officers would issue fines to anyone who has been drinking, even if they’re 21 or older.

Weber said officers would only ticket people who are causing a disturbance.

After the question-and-answer session, some students remained unsure of the proposed changes.

“I understand that, yes, college kids can be annoying when they’re drunk,” UW-Eau Claire sophomore Emily Geving said, “but trying to control their intoxication while they’re in a bar, that’s ridiculous.”

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the amendments March 12. It’s scheduled for a vote the next day.

A full look at the proposed ordinance change is available on page 159 of City Council’s Feb. 27 agenda.

Contact: 715-830-5828, lauren.french@ecpc.com, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter


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