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Regular Updates from Your Association

by andrew carpenter

Bad River Transit in Northern Wisconsin

In mid-January, I visited Lloyd Hartwell, manager for the Bad River Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa Tribe’s transit system in northern Wisconsin. We discussed how previous technical assistance from CTAA through the USDA’s Tribal Passenger Transportation Technical Assistance Program influenced mobility for tribal residents on and around the reservation.

The previous assistance led to Bad River Transit adding a second route to its system connecting Odanah – the main part of the reservation where 95 percent of residents live – with the town of Ashland about 10 miles away.

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When considering traditional performance indicators, ridership in particular, the new route would not appear to have had any effect on the community, with annual ridership remaining consistent between 42,000 and 45,000 trips per year. But Hartwell explained that this is due to the reservation’s unique demographics, with new residents – and therefore passengers – replacing others who have left.

Hartwell calculated that the vast majority of rides on his system are for employment, especially at the tribe’s casino, and for shopping in Ashland. As a result, though the system has not added passengers the way they hoped to, the USDA project helped to make life significantly easier for those who do use it. This is important to consider in a community where many residents do not have drivers’ licenses.

The true success of the new route is that it makes traveling more convenient for more people around Odanah. Adding the second route has created more direct access to amenities in Ashland. One example of this benefit that Hartwell provided is that groceries on the reservation are far more expensive than those in Ashland, and adding a direct line to the Walmart has directly helped families reach food more affordably.

The previous assistance led to Bad River Transit adding a second route to its system connecting Odanah – the main part of the reservation where 95 percent of residents live – with the town of Ashland about 10 miles away.

In addition, many residents travel beyond Ashland to other towns around the Chequamegon Bay and to Red Cliff, a neighboring, “cousin” tribe, as Hartwell describes. Though Bad River Transit only connects with Ashland, the Tribal TA program provided guidance on coordinating schedules and transfers with Ashland’s Bay Area Rural Transit, which also serves Odanah, and reaches all the way to Red Cliff, nearly 40 miles away.

Where tribal residents used to walk miles in frigid temperatures, or not travel at all, these two seemingly simple changes significantly helped those with limited options to better connect to important services and opportunities around their community.

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.