Green Bay Metro Helps ‘Titletown’ And Region Move Forward With Key Services, Travel Options
By Harrell Kerkhoff Busline Magazine Editor
Although life in general is beginning to settle after several challenging pandemic years, a steadfast commitment to the people who rely on public transportation, and its growth, remains strong among many representatives of the industry. That includes the dedicate staff and officials at Green Bay (WI) Metro.
“I have always felt some of the people with the largest hearts work in this (public transportation) industry,” Green Bay Metro Transit Director Patty Kiewiz said. “That is certainly the case with our transit system. Their commitment to provide reliable and safe transportation always leaves me speechless.
“When it comes to public transportation, there is always room for improvement and expansion. It’s therefore critical, for those involved in this line of work, to seek out the desires, concerns and problems of people, as it relates to their transportation needs. We know people must get to their doctor appointments, to the grocery store, and to arrive at work or school on time — and to do so in a safe, reliable and courteous manner.”
If there has been one “positive” from the pandemic, as it relates to transportation in general, it’s the importance the global ordeal has placed on safely getting people to where they need to go — even during the most difficult of times.
“I think many people have stepped back and have started to realize how public transportation plays an essential role in life, and why it should be considered critical infrastructure,” Kiewiz said. “I’m very optimistic about the investment and expansion of public transportation in the years to come.
“It’s also not lost on many people that public transportation helps the environment. It’s a more sustainable way to move people. At the end of the day, public transportation provides a level of comfort and satisfaction that I feel will continue to grow in importance.”
Although there are larger cities in the United States, as well as Wisconsin, there are many things that make Green Bay quite unique — even world famous.
With an estimated population of 107,015 (approximately 306,241 people live within the Green Bay metropolitan area, third largest in Wisconsin), the city is situated at the mouth of the Fox River and southern edge of Green Bay, considered an “arm” of nearby Lake Michigan.
Located in northeastern Wisconsin, 116 miles north of Milwaukee, the Green Bay area is known for its “small town” atmosphere and a multitude of outdoor recreational opportunities. There is also the Green Bay Packers.
The third-oldest franchise in the NFL, dating to 1919, the Packers are the only non-profit, community-owned major league professional sports team in the United States. Green Bay is also the smallest populated city in the U.S. to have a major professional sports franchise. Home games have been played at the famed Lambeau Field since 1957, and according to the NFL, the Packers have the most wins in league history. They also have won 13 league championships, the most in NFL history, including four Super Bowls. Due to the success of the Packers, the city of Green Bay has earned the nickname “Titletown.”
Although its history does not go as far back as the Packers, Green Bay Metro has been in operation for 50 years, when the city took over transportation services from the Wisconsin Public Service Corporation.
Today, Green Bay Metro provides transportation within five area communities: Green Bay, Ashwaubenon, Allouez, De Pere, and Bellevue. Its service area is a little over 42 square miles, and includes fixed-routes as well as GBM On Demand microtransit and paratransit services. The latter two are provided by a contractor, working in correlation with Green Bay Metro.
“When I started at Green Bay Metro 19 years ago, our fixed-route service used a traditional spoke-and-hub system. That has changed as our area communities and overall transportation needs have expanded,” Kiewiz said. “For example, we added transfer points in 2011, allowing individuals to switch routes without having to come back to the main hub. Another big change came in 2020, when we implemented our microtransit service, known as GBM On Demand. That has helped us increase service frequencies and reduce travel times.”
GBM On Demand is a ride-share service, typically using vans. Users can call or use an app to book a trip. The average response time is less than 15 minutes.
“We utilize GBM On Demand to complement our fixed-routes. It has allowed us to expand our service area, including places where it does not make sense to provide fixed-route service,” Kiewiz said. “We remodified our entire service area in August 2021. It followed a year-long pilot program involving GBM On Demand, which is now a regular mode of transportation within Green Bay Metro’s operating system. The end-result has been a 30-minute frequency increase for our fixed-routes, while also reaching new areas within our community, such as industrial parks.
“The GBM On Demand service was expanded in January 2023, allowing for additional service hours. Such passengers as third-shift workers have greatly benefited from this expansion. We now provide transportation services until 10:45 p.m. Monday through Friday within our community, and until 7:45 p.m. on Saturday. Those two services (fixed-route and GBM On Demand) are working well together.”
A major goal for Kiewiz, and her staff at Green Bay Metro, is to some day provide Sunday service.
“That has been a dream of mine since I started working here. There has never been Sunday public transportation service in Green Bay, outside of what we provide for games involving the Green Bay Packers,” Kiewiz said.
Four Green Bay Metro routes are used to get fans to and from Lambeau Field, which has a seating capacity of 81,441, and is located near the city’s downtown.
“We are in a very unique situation in that the population of Green Bay is a little over 100,000, yet on game day, there are over 80,000 people inside Lambeau Field,” Kiewiz said. “That is a tremendous influx of people, within our community, for those games.”
Keeping with the football theme, the four routes operated by Green Bay Metro during the games are called: Cheesehead, Quick Slant, Lambeau Leap, and QB Sneak.
“Green Bay Metro offers this service to assist fans, as well as people working in area establishments during the games, which mostly occur on Sundays,” Kiewiz said. “We provided just under 3,400 trips during a recent game.”
Another service offered through Green Bay Metro is ADA paratransit. It’s origin-to-destination transportation for people with disabilities, who have been certified as unable to use Metro’s fixed-routes for some, or all, trips. Green Bay Metro currently contracts with a private company to provide the service.
“Paratransit is provided within three-quarters of a mile of our fixed-routes. Those with disabilities can also now use our GBM On Demand service, which typically is provided corner-to-corner. However, for those who qualify with a disability, it can be provided door-to-door,” Kiewiz said. “Some of our paratransit riders are able to utilize the on demand service, which is a more cost-effective option for them. Our GBM On Demand service has the same fare rate as our fixed-routes.
“With that being said, paratransit remains a very important service for our community, and we continue to advocate for its funding. It’s something that is near and dear to me. I had a parent who was disabled, and know that having different transportation options can help many people keep their independence.”
Green Bay Metro currently operates 36 fixed-route buses, which includes 30-, 35-, and 40-foot vehicles. Twelve other vehicles are used for the contracted GBM On Demand and paratransit services.
Since 2001, all Green Bay Metro operations have been located in its transportation center, near downtown Green Bay. It includes administration offices, a maintenance facility, and a garage large enough to house all of Metro’s vehicles.
“Being located in a northern climate, we are very fortunate to have all of our equipment inside, when not in use,” Kiewiz said. “We also provide a lot of amenities at our bus shelters. That is very important, especially in the winter, as the weather here can get very interesting.”
History can be a good, albeit sometimes harsh, teacher. Case in point is the COVID pandemic, which continues to touch some aspects of transportation. That is certainly the case at Green Bay Metro, which provided service even during the most challenging times in 2020.
“Like I’m sure most people involved in our industry, we were taken aback by what was taking place as the pandemic arrived in our area,” Kiewiz said. “Our top priority was the safety of our staff and passengers. We were very fortunate, and appreciative, with the additional funding that was made available to public transportation. It gave us the ability to install driver shields, and use Q’STRAINT’s technology that allowed passengers in wheelchairs to self-secure themselves. We also installed air purification systems.”
Other steps taken at Green Bay Metro, during the height of the pandemic, included fare-free service, back door-only entry, and limiting the number of riders per bus.
“Those were challenging times, but we were able to help people get to where they needed to go,” Kiewiz said. “Not everybody could work from home. Some businesses, such as grocery stores and gas stations, had to stay open. We helped people get to those places.”
Green Bay Metro averaged 1.2 million annual rides prior to the pandemic. Currently, that number is 700,000, but increasing.
“There are still people who work from home, but we are confident our ridership will continue to climb,” Kiewiz said. “We have kept the driver barriers in place, as well as the air purification systems. We feel that is beneficial to protect not only against COVID, but all types of viruses.
“We have also implemented a hands-free fare system, allowing fares to be paid through an app. Having such things in place puts us in a better position if we ever, heaven forbid, face something like COVID again.”
Other forms of technology making an impact at Green Bay Metro include new EQUANS CAD/AVL (Computer-Aided Dispatch/Automatic Vehicle Location) software that better connects passengers with fixed-route and GBM On Demand services.
“We are undergoing a complete overhaul of that technology, and expect it to be available by late spring,” Kiewiz said. “It will provide passengers with better information as to where certain buses are located, their arrival times, and if there are delays.
“We live in an area that has several drawbridges over the Fox River, which can provide traffic delays. It’s great to offer up-to-date traffic information for our riders.”
Help Wanted: A Sign Of The Times
Green Bay Metro recently honored one of its bus drivers, Dale Detrie, who retired at the end of 2022 after 50 years of service.
“It’s very uncommon to see someone who remains in one place for very long these days, much less 50 years. Among our biggest challenges today, at Green Bay Metro and many other transit systems, is finding employees — specifically drivers. It used to be, we would hire a driver on a part-time basis, and that person would have to wait until a full-time slot opened. That wait is no longer necessary,” Kiewiz said. “We currently have 20 drivers, and in a perfect world, we would have 25 — just for fixed-route.
“We are trying our best, through various incentives, to encourage people to apply. That includes offering a pension and leave time. We also let people know that being a driver is a very rewarding job.”
She added that possessing a CDL is not a must for someone interested in becoming a driver at Green Bay Metro.
“We will help individuals get their CDLs, and our basic training process can take anywhere from four to six weeks, depending on a person’s experience. Training includes how to safely operate our equipment through the Smith System defensive driving program,” Kiewiz said. “We can teach just about anybody how to properly drive a bus.”
Another part of being a good bus driver is becoming proficient in customer service, something that is also taught at Green Bay Metro.
“It’s important those who are interested in driving a bus for a living understand that passengers must feel safe and are well treated. We want candidates with an excellent driving record, a smile on their face and a love for life. We will help them learn how to drive the bus,” Kiewiz said. “As a transportation provider, we could not function without any of our staff members. That includes office workers, maintenance personnel, drivers, supervisors and dispatchers. They all play a vital role in helping people on a day-to-day basis. Therefore, making sure we are able to retain, and support, our employees is essential.”
She noted that it’s not always easy to work in the transportation industry. Challenging schedules can come into play.
“We live by a schedule in this industry. That is transportation, and can create some challenges from an employment perspective. Therefore, it’s very critical that we, as a public transportation provider, invest in, and encourage, our employees,” Kiewiz said. “Many Green Bay Metro employees see our passengers on a regular basis, and develop strong bonds. That sense of security for riders is very important. For example, we recently dedicated a bench in honor of a longtime passenger who had passed away. That passenger’s mother had a plaque placed on the bench, with words expressing how much the passenger appreciated his bus drivers.
“That sends a strong message on how important our drivers are to our riders, and how much they are appreciated.”
Officials at Green Bay Metro spend a lot of time getting the word out about the transit system’s different services and capabilities. That is accomplished in various ways, including through social media, apps and face-to-face meetings.
“We have a full-time mobility coordinator who spends a tremendous amount of time teaching individuals and groups how to use our different modes of transportation. She works with agencies and schools, all in an effort to help more people learn about the services we provide,” Kiewiz said. “We are always looking to expand our informational capabilities, which is particularly important when new modes of transportation are introduced. Change can be difficult. Therefore, we do our best to relay important information when change occurs at Green Bay Metro.
“The goal is to make sure people know we are here to help them, when it comes to their different transportation needs.”
Kiewiz spoke highly of the support Green Bay Metro continues to receive from local governments. It’s support that has not gone unnoticed or underappreciated.
“There are five municipalities that we serve, and I’m very happy to say that in my time at Green Bay Metro, representatives of those municipalities have been very supportive of public transportation,” she said. “It’s not always easy for communities to provide funding for transit, but we continue to see a very strong commitment from the people who represent our service areas.
“The same is true on the state and federal level. There seemed to be more challenges with funding 10 to 12 years ago, but I think, especially since the pandemic, that more people have realized the positive impact that public transit can have on communities throughout the country.
“Over 70 percent of Green Bay Metro’s riders use our services to get to, and from, school and work. We provide a critical form of transportation — for both employees and employers. We also see more choice riders on our buses — especially when gas prices increase. And, there are the environmental benefits to consider, when using public transportation.”
All of those factors, she added, point to the importance of future commitments to public transportation in general — and to the transit employees who allow such work to continue.
“A transit career is one of those best-kept secrets that many people don’t look at or realize. The work provides a great sense of reward. It’s a career that allows you to help people, and the community, on a daily basis,” Kiewiz said. “It’s therefore critical to let young people know about the many opportunities that are available in this industry.”
Contact: Green Bay Metro, 901 University Ave., Green Bay, WI 54302. Phone: 920-448-3450. Website: greenbaywi.gov/231/Metro-Transit.