Who Will Be Streetcar Operator?
The city? A private company? The downtown BID? Maybe Ald. Bauman? No one really knows.
The federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality [CMAQ] grant is welcome news for urban Milwaukee, and opens the next question in the decades-old quest for modern rail transit here:
So, who’s going to run this thing?
The funds were paid to the City of Milwaukee, which has no experience in operating a transit system. No legislation has been introduced to the Common Council to establish a Transit Department (we’re not Janesville, after all).
Our upcoming street rail system, in its initial stages, will operate only within the city limits, and mostly within the 4th aldermanic district of Bob Bauman, so it would be a bit of a stretch to attach it to a Regional Transit Authority, which would be impossible anyway, since the legislature has forbidden an RTA here.
I had taken it as a matter of faith that the streetcars would be operated by members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, but I have not seen any evidence that the bus drivers are preparing to cross-train as rail operators. And, frankly, the Milwaukee Transit Riders Union seems more active on the issue than the folks at the Local.
I asked Ald. Bauman, a noted transit expert, about the union, and he said the streetcar operators might not need to be unionized. This could keep costs down, he says. Put it all together, maybe $100 per hour (with benefits) rather than, say, $165 or whatever they have it up to nowadays.
Who might operate the system? I asked. “The Downtown BID  could run it,” he suggests, adding that the organization can enter into contracts and has experience with the neighborhood.
(The Downtown BID already has a fleet of vehicles, including Segways, patrol machines, bicycles, carts, trailers and mobile devices for sweeping sidewalks, not to mention the seasonal rubber-wheeled trolley it runs.)
Eventually, when we get a regional transit system figured out, the streetcar (and presumably the rest of it) would be run by “an outfit like Veolia,” Bauman suggests.
The ever-available international company has for years done contracted work for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. A Veolia representative told me some months ago he fully expected the firm to ultimately operate the streetcar.
Maybe. But when I asked Beth Werick, the BID 21 executive director, what she thought of getting into the streetcar business, she was on board, full throttle ahead. “I’d love to have the BID operate the streetcar,” she says.
For now the mayor has his mitts on the money; he did not immediately respond to a request asking who would run his system.
Although we do not know who will make the system roll, we do know that the roll-out of the system is managed by Kris Martinsek and Jeff Bentoff, who have kept news of it alive via social media and some very well-attended special events.
A “Streetcar Social” [Facebook] is scheduled for Thursday, May 15th from 5 – 6:30 p.m. at Residence, “featuring stylish interiors and affordable luxuries,” located on the streetcar route at “612 N. Broadway, Downtown Milwaukee.” It will be free and open to the public. The host for the inaugural event is Kerry Shannon, who describes himself as the “Tastemaker / Big Cheese / Errand Boy” at the decorative arts shop. Shannon has said he “consciously chose to locate his store on the streetcar route because it will be good for business.”
Described as “No. 1 in a series of periodic gatherings to promote ridership, raise awareness & support businesses along the route,” the “social will be purely that – casual, relaxed, nonpolitical and without a formal presentation,” the prospectus encouragingly tells us.
The event and others to follow will be held at businesses along the route. Let them celebrate while the rent is still cheap!
The series is patterned after events in Atlanta and Cincinnati which, like Milwaukee, are also expecting streetcars in the near future and are preparing for delivery after recovering from the effects of the mild complications common to first-timers.
Sausage Maker Story Is Baloney
It certainly was an attention-getting announcement posted by Bolzano Artisan Meats of Milwaukee saying it had been “Forced to Close Due To Unjust WI Dept. of Agriculture Actions.”
Husband and wife team Scott Buer and Christin Johnstone-Buer have been making the cured meats using traditional techniques for 5 years, operating out of a factory on N. Holton St. that was once the home of Great Lakes Distillery.
“Wisconsin Dept. of Agriculture ordered all production and sales at our company to stop and is leading to the destruction of around $50,000 worth of salami that the USDA, the highest food safety authority in the nation, declared to be safe and wholesome,” the pair wrote.
They poured fat on the fire by adding: “The state agency is also participating in what our legal assistance is calling unprecedented bullying of our small company, and even small stores and co-ops that have carried our products.”
They then provide a link to a fundraising site with a $40,000 goal to “help local food innovator end conflict with state regulators.” The site was started Monday, May 6th and will run until July 5th. Over $2,800 was pledged on the first day.
The funds are for legal counsel, relaunching the company under USDA [not state] inspection, and to provide a “small owners draw of about $500 combined a week owners [sic] for Scott and Christin.”
Raechelle Clein, Public Information Officer Divisions of Animal Health & Food Safety, says Balzano’s claims are not correct.
“The recall of Bolzano products is strictly a USDA Food Safety Inspection Service matter and any comment on the recall would have to come from them. It apparently came to light when a federal investigator discovered an inappropriate use of a federal inspection label on a product.
“In an entirely separate matter, Bolzano changed the way it processed its product and so DATCP has suspended its license until we can be sure the product still meets food safety standards under the new processing procedure. We are working with the company in an effort to assist Bolzano in becoming compliant so it can start producing again.”
Later Bolzano changed some of its claims, but did little to alleviate the confusion when it posted this retort on Facebook:
“BTW, we were not angry and drunk when we wrote the original copy for the Indiegogo campaign – just sleep deprived after weeks of legal fighting. We’re better at charcuterie than editing.”
In an interview, Scott Buer explained that the state only inspects smaller operations like Bolzano. Large companies like Oscar Mayer are federally inspected, and Buer would rather be inspected federally. The state has been difficult to work with, he says, though inspectors seem to enjoy the Bolzano facility, he adds, noting his company’s state-of-the-art equipment. Still, he would welcome a change in inspectors: “I hope we are able to get restarted under federal inspection.”
Never a dull moment for a sausage manufacturer.