Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

County Board Okays Bid for Streetcar

Despite long odds against winning, county will submit bid to the city.

By - Mar 23rd, 2017 05:26 pm
Milwaukee Streetcar on Milwaukee St.

Milwaukee Streetcar on Milwaukee St.

Milwaukee County will throw its hat in the ring to operate the city’s streetcar system, despite long odds against winning. With an April 4th deadline looming, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors approved legislation today that requests the Milwaukee County Transit System and Milwaukee County Department of Transportation to respond to the city’s request-for-proposals to operate the Milwaukee Streetcar.

The board approved the bid request, which was sponsored by chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. and supervisors Eddie Cullen, Marina Dimitrijevic, Jason Haas, Marcelia Nicholson and David Sartori on a 13 to 4 vote. They also fought off a last minute parliamentary move by newly-elected supervisor Dan Sebring to hold the matter over. Supervisors Deanna Alexander, Anthony Staskunas, Steve Taylor and John Weishan Jr. voted against the bid.

Pending city legislation could give the county more time to submit their bid. Alderman Tony Zielinski introduced a bill to the Milwaukee Common Council that would extend the bidding timeline by two months. The council will consider that legislation at its regularly scheduled March 28th meeting. Support for the bill is unclear, especially since Zielinski was a vocal streetcar opponent during the approval process, which might make a proposal by him to delay things suspicious to some.

During her remarks before the vote, Dimitrijevic called it a “once in a lifetime generational opportunity.” The supervisors were joined in support of the measure by the Amalgamated Transit Union local 998, which represents MCTS drivers and mechanics. ATU 998 ironically came out in opposition to the streetcar in 2015.

County Executive Chris Abele has been hard to pin down on the streetcar issue. At a Public Policy Forum panel this week, Abele said he believed the streetcar should use the MCTS fare system, but didn’t offer any support for the county to operate the streetcar.

Why County Has Little Chance of Winning

The bid, which will be scored by the city on a 100-point scale, requires a “Minimum of five (5) years of demonstrated streetcar or related transit service experience on similar systems in an urban environment.” Unless county officials find a partner in a hurry, their bid seems likely to receive a failing grade. Fifty percent of the RFP score is based on “experience and qualifications” and “past performance” — of which the county has none outside of the long-term operation of its own bus system. The issue of cost is also a substantial scoring figure, representing 30 percent of the bid score.

During a March 8th hearing at the board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee, Milwaukee County Transit System director Dan Boehm raised a number of issues regarding the proposed bid, telling the committee “the deck’s pretty stacked against us.” Boehm noted the requirement of a minimum of five years of experience and an additional challenge — separate state and county laws that bar the county from expending money on the streetcar system. The streetcar operator would be paid by the city, but would do so in an at-risk position, meaning that if the county were to bid too low, it could lose money and violate state law. To avoid this scenario, the county would have to propose a fairly high cost, which would reduce their likelihood of winning the contract.

Losing the contract doesn’t mean the county will never have a chance to bid again. The first operator contract is being awarded for a minimum of six years, three months with a five-year renewal option held by the city. The streetcar is expected to start operation in November 2018.

Multiple sources confirm that a number of parties have expressed interest in bidding on the streetcar’s operation.

Sebring’s Parliamentary Maneuver

In a last minute parliamentary move, Sebring attempted to derail the ability of the board to authorize the bid. Sebring is a streetcar opponent but voted for the bid, then moved to reconsider his vote as the meeting was ending, in hopes the legislation would then stay open for another meeting cycle. Dimitrijevic moved for immediate reconsideration and Sebring’s stall tactic was defeated on a 12 to 3 vote, though two supervisors had already exited the meeting room.

Dranzik Confirmed

Milwaukee County Department of Transportation director Brian Dranzik was confirmed for another term as the head of the transportation department by the board on a 16 to 1 vote. Only Dimitrijevic, who has raised the issue of a lack of response from Abele and Dranzik on the streetcar, voted against confirmation.

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here

4 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: County Board Okays Bid for Streetcar”

  1. mbradleyc says:

    You say it’s a long shot, but why shouldn’t MCTS win? They are the logical operators. It would be better for the entire system.

    This is obvious.

  2. Eric S says:

    I’m not as concerned with MCTS actually operating the streetcar (and it may well make more sense for an entity with rail experience to operate it instead) so long as fares are coordinated and integrated with MCTS. From the user’s perspective, the transit system should be a seamless network, regardless of the operator.

  3. Sam says:

    Is the system going to have signal priority?

  4. Dave K says:

    If ATU 998 was against the streetcar, it probably makes sense not to choose MCTS. Given their previous opposition, they might try to sabotage the success of the streetcar if they win the contract. The city is spending a lot of money on this system and it’s important to get it right. They should look at some kind of startup like the Bublr bike people or some other pro-Milwaukee group that’s excited to build and promote our great city.

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