Patti Wenzel

In need of Transit(ion)

By - Apr 12th, 2010 04:00 am
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I’ll admit it — I haven’t been on a bus in over 15 years. I am fortunate to have a driver’s license and a fuel efficient Toyota (don’t worry, it’s not on the recall list.) I drive to work, to the grocery store, to the theater and to the mall. I like the convenience and ease of hopping in my car whenever I want and going wherever I want.

When I was a child and teen, I rode the bus everywhere. My grandmother taught me how to read a schedule, use a transfer and pull the wire above the window to alert the driver to my stop. Eventually, I taught many of my friends to ride the bus, which we used to get to Southridge for some serious pre-license mall cruising and to get to Wisconsin Lutheran High School. Once there I made many friends from all over the county, and having the bus available made visiting them even easier. Route 67 took me to a boyfriend’s house on Capitol Drive, while Route 51 ended in adventures at South Shore Park. And a few transfers got me to Bradford Beach, Brady Street and even the Oriental Theater for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

However, there are others who don’t have the legal or financial freedom to have a car and operate it. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 248,000 people over the age of 18 in Milwaukee County cannot legally drive. Additionally, there are over 40,000 jobs within the county that are inaccessible to those citizens due to lack of public transportation.

Those numbers should shock us all. That’s 35 percent of all the adults in the county who have no independent way to get to work, school, the store or entertainment in the county.

But lately the discussion about transit in Milwaukee has focused on high speed rail between here and Madison. Politicians are waging a battle over the $825 million in federal funds to initially build and purchase train cars. Pundits are sniping over whether the train is necessary. A speaker at a recent transportation meeting said bringing high-speed rail to the region would increase the need for short route mass transit, so we should build it and the buses will come.

Milwaukee’s mayor and the county executive have opposing views on transit. Mayor Tom Barrett is solidly on board with the high-speed train, would like to see light-rail throughout the county and run a tracked streetcar in the downtown business district. County Executive Scott Walker is opposed to trains and recently told me that he would like to see funds used to preserve and expand the current Milwaukee County Transit System. However, he is opposed to a voter-approved sales tax increase to help fund MCTS and he recently approved an upgrade in fare boxes that will eliminate the free, one-hour transfer and force riders to pay full fares if they don’t purchase weekly or monthly passes.

All of these plans have merit, but right now I think the priorities are out of whack. What we need now is to focus on cheap, readily available and reliable transportation, not a a streetcar that will circle downtown or a train that will connect us with Cleveland and the Twin Cities.

Photo from Bill Ward’s Brickpile, via Flickr Common Creative

We need bus service that will take people to jobs in Franklin, Oak Creek and South Milwaukee. We also need an agreement that will expand service into Waukesha, Washington, Racine and Kenosha counties so available labor in the inner city can get to suburban industrial sites. We need to have alternatives to congested roads and the reconstruction of the Zoo Interchange, a mess we had a small taste of in late March.

A Regional Transit Authority is a great idea, but getting complete agreement on that will be politically difficult. The legislature is considering a bill to allow for the creative of interim RTA’s, but the Waukesha and Washington county Board of Supervisors have already voted to not take part in any type of transit agreement with Milwaukee. Some pundits are even floating an idea that if Waukesha won’t play on transit Milwaukee should withhold access to Lake Michigan water.

Milwaukee County had an opportunity to better fund and even expand its bus service with the voter-approved one percent increase in the sales tax, but Gov. Doyle vetoed its approval, because it wasn’t tied to the entire RTA project. He has taken and all-or-nothing stance that continues to hurt current and prospective riders in Milwaukee.

Riders (and potential riders) of MCTS need to stand up and say enough. We need to get Doyle, Walker, Barrett and other elected officials to stop the “build and they will come” or “starve it and they’ll all get cars” mentality and restore and expand bus service in Milwaukee County.

Our economy depends on it.

Categories: Commentary

0 thoughts on “In need of Transit(ion)”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The RTA is to fund the bus system in Milwaukee County. Working on HSR and streetcars moves the transit system (see it is a system) forward, not backwards (yup helps the buses too). And Waukesha and Washington counties aren’t part of the current RTA discussion anyhow (Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha). Finally, Doyle vetoed the funding because it was a jumble of transit, parks, ems, and police instead of transit which it needs to be all about.

  2. Anonymous says:

    In cities with rail, the bus system do better. Transit ridership and the efficiency of the system is dependent on a network effect. As the network expands and utilization rises, it becomes more cost effective. Systems that run on electricity, both trolley buses and electric rail (HSR, LRT and trolleys) cost less to operate than buses. This is all proven by just analyzing historical data. (See: David J. St. Clair, “The Motorization and Decline of Urban Public Transit, 1935–1950”, Journal of Economic History, Vol 81, Issue 3, 1981)

    American’s for Prosperity, Cato, and the Reason foundation, all get money from gasoline producers and have interlocking directors such as the Koch brothers who are heavily invested in keeping America dependent on oil and automobiles. Walker, Sykes, and Belling spout propaganda and pseudo science generated by these “think tanks” and their toady “scientists.” They (the right wing nut’s) ship us Randal O’Toole to hype up the “choo-choo” chanting troglodytes and trolls whenever reasonable people attempt to have logical conversation about building a balanced transit system for our community.

    Look at the facts, rail transit is complimentary to bus public transit; statistics world wide bear this out. This myth that rail is an enemy of buses plays into the hands of those elements of society that desire to keep us dependent on the automobile. The enemy to good public transit is a broad coalition that wants to keep us hooked on oil, concrete, and maintaining the spacial segregation of poor minorities to the urban core.

    “I wonder how many times you have to be hit on the head before you
    find out who’s hitting you? It’s about time that the people of America
    realized what the Republicans have been doing to them.”
    – Harry Truman

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