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City Council to consider possible price break for low-income Eau Claire bus riders

Reduced fares, monthly passes will be debated this week

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    A bus driver boards an Eau Claire city bus on Feb. 3, 2017. The City Council will consider a proposal to reduce fares for low-income riders this week during its meetings.

    Staff file photo by Dan Reiland

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    File photo

A proposal to give low-income residents a reduced fare on city bus rides will be examined this week by the Eau Claire City Council.

Council members Terry Weld and Kathleen Mitchell urged city officials to look into the lower price for people living near the poverty line in November when Eau Claire increased bus fares for the first time in nine years.

“Certainly I’m in favor of reducing it,” said Weld, who has been part of a group that’s looked into ways a discount could be funded.

Though the initial goal was to cut monthly passes and single fares in half for low-income people, the recommendation from City Manager Dale Peters is for a smaller discount to start July 1.

His proposal would allow those with verified low-income status to pay 2017 bus rates, instead of those that went into effect Jan. 1. Low-income riders would pay a $1.50 cash fare as opposed to $1.75 for others. Monthly bus passes would be $45 for those who meet the income requirements instead of the regular $50 price.

A public hearing at Monday’s meeting will give riders an opportunity to talk about the proposal. The City Council’s Tuesday agenda includes discussion and a possible vote on the bus fares.

Peters’ proposal to roll back the fare increase for low-income riders for the second half of the year is expected to cut transit revenues by $5,500 to $7,000. He proposes cutting a citizens training program from the city manager’s budget and transferring the money to the transit division to make up that shortfall.

The recommendation also states that Peters will consider the half-off fares for low-income riders when the 2019 budget is being drafted. The city estimates it would lose $62,600 to $84,300 annually in transit revenue if those rates are enacted.

A memo from finance director Jay Winzenz and budget analyst Kristine Basom noted that the city does not yet know what its property tax limit will be for next year or how much will be needed for other city programs.

“Making funding commitments outside of the budget process does not allow for the evaluation of competing funding priorities,” the memo stated.

Weld and Mitchell — who lost her seat on the council in April’s election to newcomer Jeremy Gragert — proposed the discounted fares as a way to help low-income families and boost overall bus ridership.

Through the first three months of the year, ridership is down 3.3 percent but revenues are up 16.8 percent, according to Eau Claire Transit.

For its definition of “low-income,” the city plans to use the same 185 percent of the federal poverty level used by BadgerCare, reduced school lunches and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.

That would be an annual income of $22,311 or less for a single person or $45,510 for a family of four. By using the common definition, the city would rely on other agencies to confirm a person’s income status as opposed to verifying it on its own to issue discounted bus rates.

The city conducted a survey in early January of bus riders and found that about two-thirds would meet the basic financial criteria to qualify for a low-income reduced fare.

In its research, the city found only one Wisconsin community that currently offers discounted bus passes for low-income riders. Madison provides 225 monthly passes at a 57 percent discounted price available on a first-come first-served basis to low-income residents.

Other business

The City Council has several other items on its agenda this week, including:

• A lease for office space in the former W.L. Gore/​3M building, 2020 Prairie Lane, for city workers while City Hall is under major renovations will be revisited after action on it was postponed last month. The city would rent 21,110 square feet in the north side building at a cost of $250,000 for one year, starting in July, according to the proposed lease. A decision on the lease was delayed last month so the city could consider locations on transit lines where public meetings and some customer-service employees could be located.

• An agreement between the city and Chippewa Valley Pickleball Club is slated for a council vote. The pact would require the club to fundraise for improvements it wants at McDonough Park, 800 Centre St., while the city would help with the labor to install them. Planned improvements include resurfacing pickleball courts, adding benches and installing security cameras, lighting, a drinking fountain, storage building, port-a-potty and amenities that encourage an “active aging” theme in the park.

• Considering a $34,000 grant from the Wisconsin Economic Developmemt Corp. that will go toward an environmental assessment of the former Fabick Cat property, 1211 Menomonie Ave. The land is in the area where the UW-Eau Claire Foundation’s real estate group, Mayo Clinic Health System and the Eau Claire YMCA are planning the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex. Blugold Real Estate pledged a $17,230 local match toward the assessment, which is estimated to cost a total of $51,230.

• Awarding a bid to repave about 12 blocks of alleyways. Haas Sons of Thorp submitted the low bid of $260,000 for the work.

• Reviewing a proposal to allow planters for flowers and vegetables between the curb and sidewalk along the 600 block of South Barstow Street. Brent Douglas Flowers, which won a $2,000 grant from Downtown Eau Claire Inc. for the idea, wants to install the planters with help from Beacon House, American Insurance and Sojourner House to beautify the block and provide some produce for residents of downtown shelters.

Contact: 715-833-9204,, @ADowd_LT on Twitter

EAU CLAIRE CITY COUNCIL »Meets at 7 p.m. Monday and 4 p.m. Tuesday in the council chamber at City Hall, 203 S. Farwell St.

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