Commuters say trip to UW campus offers time to think, work

May 8, 2012

by Greg Bump

For Patricia Hastings, the bus that brings her to the UW–Madison campus is like a mobile office.

Commuting to UW-Madison

Carol Leitinger, a registered nurse at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Hospital, boards a VanGalder bus at the Memorial Union as she commutes from the UW campus to her home in Janesville, WI on May 4, 2012.

Photo: Bryce Richter

Hastings, a faculty associate in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, lives on Milwaukee’s east side and makes the commute to the UW campus via the Badger Bus.

“I get prep, grading, software tutorials and all sorts of things done during that time. I also read a number of newspaper and magazines, and so that gives me time for that,” Hastings says. “And I even get to read a book of my choosing during that time.”

Hastings is one of many long distance commuters to the campus. Many say they cherish the ride to Madison from their far-flung homes as a time to get some work done, gather their thoughts and plan their day.

A 2010 survey by Transportation Services shows that 20 percent of UW–Madison employees live between 11 and 25 miles from campus, and 9 percent live 26 or more miles away. Six percent of those who responded to the survey said they participate in a car or vanpool every day, while 83 percent said they never participate in a car or vanpool.

Other long-distance employees get to campus the way Henry Ford intended – by car. Patrick Beyer, a project manager at the Morgridge Institute for Research, drives daily from Berlin, Wis., about 80 miles each way.

Beyer says he enjoys the scenic beauty of the Fox River that runs by his backyard, and enjoys taking in the sites like Big Green Lake on his commute.

“My drive takes me from extreme rural Wisconsin – corn fields, lakes and rivers – into urban Madison and the beautiful WID building,” Beyer says.

Beyer, a former military contractor, adds, “Many people think I’m crazy but it beats one and a half hours to drive 30 miles in Kuwait. The scenery is definitely better, and there are fewer camels and sheep on the highway.”

Beyer says he’s tried hooking up with a ride share or vanpooling, but those modes of transportation aren’t flexible enough to fit his schedule. So he drives alone.

“What makes it worthwhile is the people, the environment that embraces innovation and the great things we are accomplishing,” Beyer says.

Carol Leitinger says after trying commuting by car from her Janesville home, she’s now taking the bus.

Leitinger, who lives in Janesville because it’s convenient located between her three daughters and their families, is a nurse at UW Hospital. She rises before dawn and drives to the Van Galder station in Janesville to catch the 5:45 a.m. bus to Madison. The bus drops her off at the Memorial Union between 6:25 and 6:35 a.m., when she jumps on a Madison Metro bus to the hospital for her shift starting at 7 o’clock.

At night, she reverses the route.

Leitinger says she chose this method for her commute after spending too much time stuck in traffic.

“Now, although the traffic hasn't changed I can relax, read, sometimes nap for my commute. Much more relaxing for me,” Leitinger says.

Fellow bus rider Hastings’ ride generally takes about an hour and a half or less. She drives to Milwaukee’s west side to board the bus at the Pettit National Ice Center. The bus departs every hour and 15 minutes.

Hastings says she opts for the bus because it’s cheaper, more convenient and relaxing than driving.

“I would rather have a place to read or grade, rather than drive, pay for gas and parking in Madison,” Hastings says. “To be honest I don't care much for driving when I can find another alternative. Also, I-94 gets really crazy with car commuters and so the roads are crowded.”

Hastings started a business in Milwaukee after finishing grad school at UW–Madison. She was asked to teach a course in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, an offer that eventually turned into a full-time appointment.

In the meantime, she bought a house in Milwaukee, and though she loves Madison, doesn’t intend to make it her home, but she does crash here when the weather gets nasty.

“There are a couple of great places to stay around campus, and if I am snowed in, so be it,” Hastings says. “I have a extra clothes and things at the office. I follow the weather if there is an incoming storm, and try to anticipate what the Badger Bus might do.”

Hastings has been riding the Badger Bus off and on since 1988. She says the bus drivers look out for the regulars.

“They do become like family -- similar to the people at the coffee shop or anywhere you see the same people for years. You get to know them and they you,” Hastings says.