Citizens share their views of Milwaukee’s transit future
The upcoming 2012 budget discussions in Milwaukee County are going to be ugly. County Executive Chris Abele has warned there will be major cuts to close the $55 million shortfall he is facing and has asked all county departments to prepare preliminary proposals that will maintain their levy request to that of 2011.
Abele has suggested that one major area that will see reductions in service will be the Milwaukee County Transit System. Talk of reduced routes, the elimination of the Freeway Flyer service and fare increases have become the norm around the courthouse and been splashed across the local media.
Just an aside, but have you ever noticed that politicians never put out big press releases that they’re going to reduce maintenance on the county fleet or purchase scratchier blankets for the jail as a means of reducing costs? Why? Because nobody would really care. So what if they change the oil every 5,000 miles instead of 2,500? Are you really going to be upset if the inmates at the House of Correction are a little less comfy in their cots?
But if you want to stir up emotions about a budget, always go for the jugular and threaten the services most used and desired by the public – things like parks, health services and transit.
Tuesday evening, the south side had an opportunity to learn about and comment on the idea of cutting transit services across Milwaukee County during a meeting at the Cudahy Public Library. Lloyd Grant, Managing Director/President of the Milwaukee County Transit System, along with County Supervisors Patricia Jursik and Jason Haas led a discussion on the fallout from the $6.8 million in transit cuts from the state.
Grant said MCTS would prefer to not cut service, routes or limit access and that they understand the need for mobility in the community. “However, we are caught between bad choices,” he said.
County-wide, MCTS is proposing to reduce 150,000 hours of bus services or 2.3 million miles; eliminate all the Freeway Flyers, festival and special event buses; eliminate six entire routes; eliminate portions of five routes; restructure 17 other routes, reduce the frequency of buses on nine more routes and reduce Paratransit services from county-wide to the ADA minimum standard of within 3/4 miles of a fixed route.
MCTS was keep the current adult, single-trip fare at $2.25 one-way but increase the Paratransit fare from $3.25 to $4.50 per one-way trip.
Paratransit is a service mandated by the federal government to provide mobility access to handicapped persons for shopping, medical appointments and general socializing. The state did include $3 million in Paratransit funds in the 2011-13 budget, but the increasing costs are not offset by that, leading to cuts to the service.
Grant explained what criteria was used to determine what services could stay under the new, leaner budget and what had to go.
“Our plan looked at four things when making this budget. One, to keep as much service as possible on the fixed routes; two, to continue to provide service to the job corridors; three, to improve efficiencies; and four, to maintain the overall integrity of the transit system,” he said. “And we have to do that under County Executive Abele’s directive to maintain the current level of tax levy.”
Cuts to one corner of the county
So how will all these cuts effect service? In just the southern and southeast portion of the county, the cities of Hales Corners, Oak Creek and Franklin will have no access to bus service as will the majority of Paratransit patrons. County-wide, almost 2,200 current Paratransit riders will lose independent access to buses.
Workers who make use of the Freeway Flyer South Shore and College/Ryan Road lots will have to find a new way to downtown Milwaukee, one of many bad choices Grant had to confront.
“We felt riders of the Freeway Flyers have an alternative to get to their jobs, since many drive cars and park in the flyer lots,” he said. “However, many riders who live on fixed routes have no alternatives and needed the buses.”
Another blow to the southeast side of the county is a cut to Route 15’s path and a redirection of Route 51 on Oklahoma Ave.
Route 15 is one earliest bus lines developed within Milwaukee County. It currently runs from South Milwaukee north to Bayshore Mall. It follows Chicago Ave., Packard Drive, Kinnickinnic Ave., First Street, Oakland Ave. and Port Washington Road. It carries workers, students and shoppers from both ends of county.
However, Grant explained the 15 would no longer serve communities south of Oklahoma Ave. Instead the Oklahoma Ave. bus (51) would turn at Kinnickinnic Ave. and head south along the 15’s former route through St. Francis, Cudahy and South Milwaukee. This move will reduce the number of buses through those communities and force riders to transfer to continue a trip to points north or south.
Grant tried to lessen the blow by pointing out this plan would now provide an uninterrupted trip from the southeast suburbs to the western suburbs of Greenfield and West Allis. But that didn’t satisfy one member of the public.
Carol Paulson of South Milwaukee said her husband regularly rides the Freeway Flyer to his downtown office and her son uses the 15 frequently.
“I thought some of the stated purposes of the flyers were to reduce pollution, save energy, eliminate gridlock and reduce the need for expensive parking downtown. How does ending this program help any of that?” she asked.
“If you cut off the freeway flyers and the 15 you are cutting off the south side from the rest of the county. I think we need to rethink how we look at things. Remember, taxes are the price we pay to live in a civilized society. Eliminating my buses when corporations are paying no taxes, corporations that are using our infrstructure, is wrong. Maybe if they paid their fair share we all could live a decent and fair life.”
Paulson was followed by more people who demanded MCTS and the county board consider something other than cutting bus service – elderly, Paratransit riders and students. Other than one man who continually heckled the politicians, every person in the room wanted the cuts to come from something else.
Supervisor Jursik made it clear that she would make transit funding a priority during this budget season, describing transit as an integral part of the community’s infrastructure.
“Transit will be my priority and now it is time for the County Executive to make it his priority,” Jursik said calling out Chris Abele’s implied acceptance of MCTS’s budget proposal.
“You can’t keep the elderly and handicapped in their homes and if I have to close some parks or art museums, I will do it to make transit a priority.”
She also slammed the idea of Paratransit being cut back to the minimum service area required by the Federal government, noting that residents of Franklin and Oak Creek pay property taxes and they should have access to bus service.
Cudahy Mayor Tony Day and South Milwaukee Tom Zepecki equated strong transit to jobs.
“The number one priority at every level of government right now is jobs,” Zepecki said. “We are fortunate to have Caterpillar (the former Bucyrus) in South Milwaukee. But we need access to get people to those jobs.
Day pointed to the five major employers in his city and how the lack of regular and frequent bus service to the community will lead to the loss of jobs, businesses and development.
“The first thing developers ask me is what kind of transportation is available here,” Day said. “We need transit to keep our people at work.”
Supervisor Haas expressed his solidarity with the citizens and encouraged them to contact elected officials at all levels – state, local and county – to share their feelings.
“I am a bus rider. I have the luxury of a car, but choose to use the 15 to get to work,” Haas said “But some don’t have a choice and under this proposed plan forced on us it will take that choice away from people everyday.”
The southeastern suburbs are not the only portions of the county that will see cuts, reductions and changes in transit routes. To see how your part of Milwaukee County will be effected by the MCTS budget proposal, please click here.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele received department budget proposals in late June and early July. He will present his 2012 county budget to the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 29. Following his presentation, the county board can make changes to it and adopt a budget, that Abele then has veto power over. The entire process should be complete by mid-to-late November.
Any changes in service to the Milwaukee County Transit Service would take effect during the first three months of 2012.