Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Won’t Delay Streetcar for County

Ald Zielinski's attempt to delay streetcar for county only gets his own vote.

By - Mar 28th, 2017 03:49 pm
A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee's Third Ward. Milwaukee's streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Milwaukee’s streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

Legislation introduced by Ald. Tony Zielinski to extend the bidding window by two months for the operation and maintenance of the Milwaukee Streetcar was resoundingly rejected today. Zielinski, a streetcar opponent, was the lone council member to vote in favor of the legislation.

The Bay View alderman’s proposal would have extended the bidding deadline from April 4th to June 5th for a contract to operate and maintain the system. This follows a recent, but belated, push by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to request that the Milwaukee County Department of Transportation and Milwaukee County Transit System submit a bid to operate the city’s system.

In arguing for the measure, Zielinski stated “I’m requesting the council approve this matter. I feel very strongly that a local operator should have a chance to bid on this contract.”

Zielinski, who voted in favor of the streetcar in 2011 and then became a vocal opponent by the time of its 2015 confirmation, failed to garner support from the two other leading streetcar opponents. Ald. Mark Borkowski said “it would be hypocritical of me to support this. I have been since day one vehemently opposed to the streetcar.” Borkowski called the streetcar “a financial anvil around the city’s neck” and noted he didn’t want to saddle Milwaukee County with any potential costs. Ald. Robert Donovan drew substantial laughter when he announced “my doctor has advised me at all costs to avoid the streetcar discussion.” Donovan abstained from the vote.

Ald. Robert Bauman spoke at length in opposition to the matter. The downtown alderman and leading streetcar proponent opened his remarks by stating “In a perfect world, if economic common sense were driving this project, if reason and logic were driving this project, of course we would have the Milwaukee County Transit System operate this project.” He went on to lament that “Milwaukee County has at best dragged its feet in supporting this project, and at worse has been an outright opponent. Now at the last minute, not at the 11th hour, but at the 11th hour and 55 minute mark, they come in and say they want to operate it, but they want to operate it on terms different than what the RFP is asking for.”

Bauman went on to state “at any time since February of 2015 (the streetcar’s approval date) the county could have approached the city and said we’re now interested in working with you guys. We have never heard from them until March 3rd 2017, the day after they missed the mandatory pre-bid meeting.”

He noted that while the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 has backed the County Board’s push to bid on the project, whoever wins must have a workforce and under federal rules that workforce will have the right to collectively bargain. Bauman predicted that “ATU employees and members will very likely be doing the work” regardless of who the operator is.

Bauman added that regardless of the vote on this resolution, it wasn’t likely to matter because Mayor Tom Barrett, who has championed the streetcar project, has 10 days to sign any legislation into law. With the deadline for the RFP coming in less than 10 days, Barrett could simply run out the clock on any new resolution by declining to sign the measure until after the deadline.

Surrounding the whole issue is the matter of legality. Bauman, who is a lawyer, noted the city bidding rules are also subject to state and federal law, and that adjusting the RFP deadline could potentially delay the streetcar project through challenges by other bidders. He added that it would hinder the ability of the city to close on a federal grant to build the lakefront line.

Losing the contract or failing to bid 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 farebox system is excluded from the RFP and the city could still coordinate with the county on using the same fare collection system.

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.

For more information on the county’s late push to bid and details on the scoring system for the RFP, see my March 23rd column “County Board Okays Bid for Streetcar.”

More Information

For more information on project details, how the operator will be selected, what the vehicles will be like, and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

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: City Won’t Delay Streetcar for County”

  1. Ald. Bauman is absolutely correct. I discussed this very issue with him on numerous occasions. The county’s ignorance and incompetence is befuddling, yet routine. Local 998 is even worse.
    Both parties acted contrary to their self- interest, which is the definition of Folly.

  2. Joe says:

    ” I feel very strongly that a local operator should have a chance to bid on this contract”

    They had a chance – when everyone else bid on time. Why is Zielinski willing to go to the mat for an agency that couldn’t get its act together and submit a timely bid? Why would we want an agency that can’t meet deadlines running our streetcar system?

  3. Rich says:

    Why is Zielinski willing to go to the mat for an agency that couldn’t get its act together and submit a timely bid?

    Because Zelinski is still opposed and would do anything to delay the project further. Involving the county brings it closer to Local 998 and sows even further confusion plus engenders more outstate/suburban hate because of the union and / or county linkages that could result (except they weren’t likely to win the contract anyway).

    Thankfully, the rest of the council saw through the sham and avoided it.

  4. Tom T. says:

    It’s not that MCTS can’t meet the deadline, it’s because they were told by the County Board that they were not allowed to bid. 998 also opposed the streetcar. The Board reversed the resolution two weeks prior to the deadline.

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