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Green Bay Metro looks ahead to greener vehicles

In recent years, the city’s public transportation department has made efforts to upgrade its fleet to cleaner, more sustainable options

By Kira Doman

The Green Bay Metro Department hopes to transition its fleet of vehicles to more sustainable options in the future, but general upkeep and renewal of vehicles has become harder over the years. Photo courtesy of the city of Green Bay

s the effects of climate change—such as an increase in Wisconsin’s annual rainfall and Green Bay flooding events—stack up with each passing year, more and more solutions are sought after. For Green Bay residents looking for alternative transportation methods to mitigate fossil fuel dependency, taking public transport is one option.

Green Bay’s public transportation system is also operating with climate change in mind.

1,000 Friends of Wisconsin Transportation Policy Director Gregg May said transportation is the largest contributor to climate change in the country.

“A large portion of that comes from single-occupancy vehicles,” May said. “About 59% of our transportation emissions come from personal vehicles.”

1,000 Friends of Wisconsin is a statewide land use and transportation advocacy organization based in Madison.

May said there are simple ways for individuals to adjust behaviors such as biking, walking or utilizing public transit before turning the ignition.

“About 20% of trips I go less than a mile,” May said, “and you can walk a mile in 15-20 minutes. Another 20% of trips that people drive are about one to three miles, which is a distance you can bike in 15-20 minutes. So about 40% of trips are happening within this one-to-three mile radius that you can easily achieve walking or biking.”

While these activities sound simple, there are barriers to achieving reduced individual emissions. Alongside growth for biking infrastructure and pedestrian education, a lack of dollars is the primary culprit for slowed public transit expansion and awareness.

“We fund (public) transit 10% less than we were in 2006 when we take in inflation,” May said. “Meaning we have had less funding for public transportation, such as busses and trains than we did over a decade ago.”

May said public transit is in a “death spiral” and Wisconsin is very highway-focused, which takes away funding possibilities for public transit.

“There was an explosion in highway funding in 2006 and it continues now,” May said, “to the extent of every other form of transit.”

With a self-fulfilling prophecy engaged, May said individuals and elected officials need to pay attention to funding public transit.

“Because we have less funding we have to cut back on their services and frequency—which means fewer people use it— and the spiral goes on,” May said. “We need to break that cycle.”

Green Bay Metro Director Patricia Kiewiz echoed May’s sentiments and said general upkeep and renewal of vehicles has become harder over the years.

“Funding from when I walked in the door 18 years ago to today, it’s gone down,” Kiewiz said. “In 2010 we had a pretty drastic hit, about 10%, which is huge.”

The newly approved 2022 city budget cuts the Green Bay Metro’s budget by $5,819, a less than 1% budget change. Since 2011 (the most recent, available archived data) the transit budget has had a year-over-year increase of 1.7%. The department’s budget isn’t always steady. For example, in 2014, the department saw a 14% budget increase from the previous year. On the other hand, it saw a 10% budget decrease in 2012 from the previous year.

In recent years, the department has taken efforts to clean up its fleet to be more green.

As vehicles become older and are used more frequently, the gas released into the ozone becomes more toxic. Many of Green Bay Metro’s buses are older and release black smoke out of their exhaust. The department hasn’t been able to replace all of their buses as of yet—due to a lack of funding.

Green Bay Metro was awarded two grants, one in 2019 and another in 2021, to replace buses and vans with clean diesel. The department received four clean diesel buses with the first round of funding and anticipates four more clean diesel buses in 2022.
Kiewiz said the department is looking to replace their 2009 buses with another round of grant funding.

Kiewiz said the transit department has released a new app to expand its services. GBM on Demand is the first micro-transit, on-demand public transit service in the state that gives riders the options of public transit, and connects those on similar routes that are not on fixed bus schedules. The service was launched in August.

GBM on Demand describes itself as a service that “complements the existing transit infrastructure with affordable, efficient and convenient shared rides near residential neighborhoods, key transit hubs, and designated commercial and medical destinations.”
GBM on Demand operates using the geolocation data and formatting as similar ride-hailing apps Uber or Lyft. Riders without access to a smartphone can book a ride via phone by calling 920-448-3185.

Kiewiz said they look forward to pursuing and introducing even more energy-conscious methods of travel.

“We are exploring future options of electric buses,” Kiewiz said, “as we have been making changes within the facility and preparing ourselves for some of those changes to occur within the forthcoming years.”

Kira Doman is an editor and freelance journalist who graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay in the Spring of 2021. Her editing work can be found in The Sheepshead Review, The Northern Lights and Ellis Clark’s 2020 novel “With You.” Her writings can be viewed in The Driftwood and Green Bay City Pages. She is passionate about subjects such as social justice, current affairs and the arts. In her spare time, she is a barista, an average yet avid hiker, and a full-time cat mom.

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