Free bus routes Pack 'em in on game day
GREEN BAY - Dale Petty remembers walking to the Ice Bowl with his father in 1967.
Forty-nine years later, Petty’s journey to Lambeau Field was still free, but a lot warmer and more comfortable.
“We always stay at the Bay Motel, so the bus drops you off right in front of the stadium and then brings us back right to our doors,” said Petty, who now lives in Oklahoma. “It’s a great experience. You get to talk to a lot of people. It’s a lot better than walking or driving.”
For three hours before and after each home game — preseason, regular and playoff — a fleet of Green Bay Metro Transit buses ferry thousands of Packers fans to and from Lambeau Field along four routes from locations across Green Bay, De Pere, Bellevue and Ashwaubenon. It costs riders nothing, which cannot be said for most parking near the stadium.
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Green Bay Metro Transit Director Patti Kiewiz designed the routes in 2011 with the hope of getting 1,100 to 1,400 riders per game.
That year, 20,616 riders hopped on the bus, 2,060 per game. Ridership peaked in 2014 at 29,352, more than 2,900 rides a game, although last season’s Jan. 3 game against the Minnesota Vikings was the busiest so far, with 3,792 rides or 66 full buses of passengers.
Kiewiz is as thrilled as she says riders are, and not just because the game day routes are well-used.
“You can go, have a good time and not worry about getting home,” she said. “And it gives people who normally wouldn’t experience public transportation a taste of it.”
The Packers and local municipalities have worked to maintain the free bus service.
“Green Bay truly is the only NFL team that offers free transportation to their games,” Kiewiz said. “It’s been clear the city and the Packers were committed to providing this, that this kind of service is what Green Bay is all about.”
A ride on the Leap
Three hours before game time, there was barely room for one more on the Lambeau Leap last week. The bus was full: Seats, aisles, doorways.
Dean, the Green Bay Metro Transit bus driver, shrugged it off as normal.
“You get to know your neighbor,” he said.
The Lambeau Leap picks up fans from downtown, where a lot of hotels tell guests about the service, and from Green Bay's west side. That’s how Petty learned of it a few years ago. Since then, it’s the only way he goes to Lambeau when he visits once or twice a season.
He said the service is always nice, the buses clean and convenient. The first time, like many first timers, he said he was worried about finding the bus for the trip back, but the transit system makes sure it's easy.
“There are a lot of buses after the game, but it’s nice because everything is flagged and labeled,” he said.
Kiewiz said keeping riders happy after the games can be tough because almost everyone wants to leave at the same time. As many as 16 buses line Lombardi Avenue afterward after the game. Early in the season, the wait for a bus is tolerable. In January, not so much, so Kiewiz said the staff does what it can to take as many on each trip.
She said the key to making the service work so well will always be the drivers.
“They do a phenomenal job of answer questions for people who don’t normally use transit systems,” she said. “They communicate with each other to make sure everyone gets rides. The customer service our folks provide is great.”
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