VIROQUA, Wisconsin (WXOW) – The idea of a regional bus system started in Crawford County with a growing need for workers in area businesses
"The original concept was that there'd be a morning bus and an evening bus to get people to and from work," said Peter Fletcher, Transportation Planner for the Mississippi River Regional Planning Commission. "But as we saw that there was the potential need for senior and disabled transportation we looked at more of a system that would provide early morning and late evening routes for people to and from work and then midday routes that people could take to medical appointments, go shopping and just get between communities."
Now in its second full month of operation, the Scenic Mississippi Regional Transit or SMRT bus is working to meet the needs of residents in twelve communities throughout La Crosse, Crawford, and Vernon Counties.
"In the rural communities there's not a lot of public transportation," said Justin Running, vice president of Running Inc. and provider for SMRT services. "But this inter-community transportation is really, there's not a lot of that going on. This is, I think, just one of a few systems in the state that connects municipalities like this in a rural area."
So far, the majority of SMRT riders are commuters, but they aren't the only ones.
"Oh it's a mixture," said Paul Peterson, bus driver for SMRT "We have a lot of Amish people who utilize our services and a lot of professional people. We have other people that come on and are going to doctors appointments, we have students."
"The ridership is steadily increasing," said Running. "The month of January we did about 450 rides in our first full month of operation. And we've seen that increase already in the first half of February."
The buses are handicap accessible and equipped with reading lights, wireless internet, and bike racks. They also keep cars off the road limiting the carbon footprint.
"Probably the greatest thing is the cost," said Fletcher. "To drive from Viroqua to La Crosse or vice versa in a car that gets 25 miles per gallon you're going to pay around 8 to 10 dollars to get gas, versus 3 dollars, or a 6 dollar round trip."
They also provide a break between work and home.
"A lot of people comment that on the way home at night it's so nice to sit down, relax after a days work," said Peterson. "Visit with other people, maybe read a magazine and just relax rather than go home right away, driving, and thinking about what they're going to make for supper. And it kind of breaks up their routine."
During the workweek, SMRT buses run four times daily along three routes. Tickets are $3 and are the same price no matter how far you're traveling.
SMRT transportation is funded through numerous government agencies including programs through the Wisconsin DOT, as well as local businesses including Gundersen Lutheran, Organic Valley, Vernon Memorial Healthcare, Walmart, and Dairyland Power.
Details about routes and schedules can be found at the www.rideSMRT.com
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