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Group tackles New London’s lack of transportation

Survey collecting public’s opinions on issue

By Scott Bellile

When a personal vehicle is not an option for getting around a rural city, oftentimes the alternative is walking.

New London Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director April Kopitzke said she learned how challenging finding a ride can be in a community without public transportation last December.

As a member of ThedaCare Medical Center-New London’s Community Health Action Team, Kopitzke participated in an exercise where small groups of CHAT members were dropped off at a location and had to find a way to a destination across town.

Kopitzke and her four colleagues started at St. Joseph Residence on the southeast edge of town and had to get to The Washington Center 1.5 miles away.

“What we realized is because there were five of us, we couldn’t find a vehicle to pick us up that was large enough … so every single group ended up walking back on their own. So it was pretty impactful,” Kopitzke said of the exercise.

Now CHAT is turning to the public to learn their insights on local transportation options. CHAT recently launched a survey that asks participants about their primary form of transportation, how reliable it is and what their backup options would be if their first choice became unavailable.

Click here to view the survey and print a copy. Surveys are also available at a number of community establishments including City Hall, New London Public Library, New London Area Chamber of Commerce, Festival Foods and Piggly Wiggly.

Responses will be used to identify ways to improve transportation in New London.

CHAT is a program funded by ThedaCare that brings community leaders together in cities with ThedaCare hospitals, including New London, to find solutions to public health issues.

Locally the CHAT problem-solving model has created community initiatives such as the Sturgeon Shuffle race and the Rural Health Initiative program for farmers. ThedaCare initially funds such initiatives before transferring their ownership to organizations or businesses.

For New London’s transportation shortage, one option CHAT is exploring is securing funding to bring a part-time mobility manager to Waupaca County.

The mobility manager would be based in New London. Their duties could include creating a web directory of local transportation options, answering the public’s questions about transportation as well as recruiting service providers to fill New London’s gaps, according to David Morack, CHAT member and New London City Council president.

For example, Waupaca and Clintonville have taxi services while New London does not. Perhaps one of those businesses could expand to New London, Morack said.

Another duty for the mobility manager would be communicating the transportation options that are already locally available, such as the weekday senior van program, Double J’s Shuttle Service and the ridesharing app Uber, Morack said.

New London may be a less appealing community to live or work to people who prefer not to drive everywhere, which ultimately hurts economic development, Morack said.

Kopitzke said a lack of transportation options hurts employers, too. She said Tyson Foods deals with employees being unable to work if their car breaks down because they have no other ride.

“From an economic development perspective, this project means a lot to us,” Morack said of the survey.

As for the public health perspective, Waupaca County Health Officer Jed Wohlt said people who struggle to find a ride to an appointment may just stay home.

“If you’re not able to get to your routine and preventative care, or even (appointments for) some of your minor health issues, you’re not going to go, and then the next time you go, it may be the emergency room,” Wohlt said. “If we can help get people to their regular checkups, I think that’s a huge impact on community health.”

The Waupaca County Volunteer Driver Transportation Program, offered through the Aging and Disability Resources Center, is an option to get to appointments for seniors or people with disabilities.

The county lacks cheap transportation options for the general population, Wohlt said.

Wohlt added the paid ridesharing apps that are popular in larger cities do not have many drivers in this rural area.

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