Jeramey Jannene

County Board Junks Bus Fare Proposal

Proposal to kill transfers and cut fares suddenly lost its supporters.

By - Oct 29th, 2012 05:31 pm

The proposed bus fare restructuring was withdrawn from consideration by a county board committee on Thursday. The proposal was born out of good intentions of a number of county supervisors to lower bus fares and increase revenue from a projected increase in riders, but had a number of shortcomings.

As discussed in detail previously, the proposal would have raised fares on at least 27% of riders, and had no effect on another 31% of riders. The idea to introduce a day pass also had a number of issues itself, including the need for advance purchase and the possibility for resale after use. Meanwhile, the proposal would have only reduced the cash fare to $1.75, a fare already available with the advance purchase of tickets.

Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 were the only people to testify on the amendment, all speaking in favor.

Supervisor Jason Haas, co-sponsor of the legislation, made a motion to withdraw the amendment following testimony from the union. He noted that while the legislation was intended to lower fares, it needed further review.

Expected Passage

The withdrawal marked a dramatic turn around for the budget amendment. It was introduced on Tuesday at the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Finance, Personal, and Audit Committee, which reviews the budget prior to the full board. The amendment was held at that meeting, pending a few questions that needed to be answered by Milwaukee County Transit System personnel, but seemed destined for likely passage, with nearly a majority of the committee listed as sponsors.

Supervisors Haas, David Bowen, Deanna Alexander, Mark Borkowski, and Russell Stamper, II were listed as sponsors on the amendment. This included four members of the committee (all but Borkowski), with five votes needed to pass the amendment at the committee level. Based on testimony when the amendment was introduced it seemed likely a fifth vote would be easily found, especially given Supervisor Patricia Jursik‘s past public support for the elimination of paper transfers.

But when the amendment was revisited on Thursday it was quickly withdrawn following the union’s testimony in support. Supervisor Haas, committee vice-chair, made a motion to withdraw that received no objections.

New Farecard System

A new fare card system is expected in the second half of 2013.  While details for the new system are not yet official, the new system will use a “contact-less smart card,” as its called, which has an imbedded chip so you can simply wave it at the on-board card reader. The new card will likely eliminate the long-standing paper transfer theft and resale issue with the transfers being stored digitally and accessed through the reusable cards.

Looming Funding Issues

The discussion around the budget for the Milwaukee County Transit System in the 2013 budget cycle has been relatively quiet thanks to the creative use of Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds to plug the system’s operating budget. Don’t expect that to be the case in 2014 budget cycle. Despite the fact that County Executive Chris Abele is nearly night and day different from his predecessor, Gov. Scott Walker, in supporting transit, the CMAQ funds are only a two-year grant and will expire in February of 2014.

To maintain the service level as it is today, Milwaukee County will need to find a way to come up with at least an estimated $19 million in 2014. If not, expect a 19 to 29 percent reduction in service. Governor Walker (who presided over a fare increase or service reduction in every year he was county exec) would be wise to restore the 10% cut in state aid to mass transit instituted in the latest state budget, especially given the budget surplus the state is currently running.

Categories: Politics

5 thoughts on “County Board Junks Bus Fare Proposal”

  1. Jerad says:

    Please, Please Please!!! Can we get a sales tax increase to fund transit and parks. Still just blows my mind how Doyle vetoed the last approved one by MKE CTY voters.


  2. Bill Sell says:

    The parks-transit referendum to support a sales-property tax swap in 2008 was successful with Milwaukee County voters saying Yes. It was good enough to give politicians cover from their fears of touching anything “Taxes” unhooked from the word “Cut”.

    There were so many pluses: a net benefit to the County, (1)bringing in a substantial amount of revenue from visitors and commuters and (2)reducing property taxes; (3)a dedicated source of funds for parks and transit, a fund that will grow with a good economy; (4)saving and building our bus system to help Milwaukee grow its economy and to shrink its geographical unemployment.

    Yes, Jerad, we need to remember the Doyle veto as it was – an over-reach of power after the people had spoken.

  3. GT says:

    The only way a sales tax will be created to fund anything is if Milwaukee County authorizes a “binding” referendum, in contrast the 2008 motion was an “advisory” measure. The difference here is critical.

    An advisory referendum allows MKE County Supervisors to kick the can up to the state and say “see our people want this”, which places the burden of increasing or creating new taxes on State Representatives. Introducing a binding referendum would place that same burden and political stigma on the Supervisors themselves.

    Another thing to consider: how would a transit system funded by sales tax in Milwaukee County equitably provide transit service for Waukesha, Ozaukee, Racine or other counties? Seems like the same logic as 60% of Mitchell’s passengers are from outside of MKE County, but are liable for 0% of the debt burden for airport projects.

  4. jesse hagen says:

    It’s not within Milwaukee county’s authority to create a binding referendum. The state has hoarded that power for themselves, dysfunctional right?

  5. Bill Sell says:

    What is not binding about a “non binding referendum”? Do voters say to themselves “Oh, it’s not binding so, heck, vote for it”?

    Or is Jesse on to the point: Madison wants to control Milwaukee? While the politicians ignored our 2008 referendum, the current legislature could have made a move toward local control; instead it banned regional transit authorities.

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