The Community Table will now offer complimentary bus passes to and from its free meal service year round.
The proposal to expand the bus pass program was approved by the Eau Claire Transit Commission last month, and the program is gearing up to start its expanded services.
Since 2012, the program has been offered November through March. Patrons could obtain special passes that allowed them a ride to and from The Community Table with up to one transfer.
Michelle Koehn, executive director of the meal service, said she hopes providing the service all year will increase accessibility to the services The Community Table offers while also promoting utilizing the Eau Claire Transit bus system.
While The Community Table bus pass program was established to enable those in need to get to the facility, at 320 Putnam St., despite snow, ice and cold through the winter months, Koehn said transportation remains a barrier to patrons all year long.
“We hear from our guests that they are walking long distances to get here or really anywhere in the community,” Koehn said. “As our downtown burgeons and blossoms, the unintended byproduct is gentrification. So folks get pushed out further and further.”
“Hopefully it’s a great asset to the community,” Koehn said, “so we can champion growth and this downtown renaissance while also looking out for individuals who are in need who are an unintended byproduct of this growth.”
According to Eau Claire Transit statistics, use of the bus passes — which allow up to one transfer to and from the Eau Claire soup kitchen — more than doubled last year. There were 1,384 passes used last year for Community Table rides, an increase from 642 in 2017.
Koehn said that is largely due to The Community Table’s outreach efforts. The passes are available to patrons at The Community Table as well as at other service agencies that see people who might need a ride there. Those agencies include Western Dairyland Community Action Agency, the Eau Claire County Aging & Disability Resource Center, the local office for the WIC food and nutrition service, as well as area schools.
“This is just another way social service agencies can bridge and work together,” Koehn said.
City Councilman Jeremy Gragert, who serves on the transit commission and successfully froze bus fares for low-income residents last year, said he’s pleased to see the bus pass program expanded and hopes to continue similar work to promote Eau Claire transit and make it more accessible.
Although the fare for a ride on a city bus, $1.75, seems low, Gragert said that can prove to be too much for someone struggling to make ends meet — especially when considering families.
“This is a way to promote The Community Table and it’s a way to promote transit — and for the people who need it I think it’s perfect for them,” Gragert said. “It’s a good partnership.”