Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Milwaukee County Fixes GO Pass

Fees and new requirements for free ride program with huge cost overruns.

By - Mar 29th, 2017 01:56 pm
Milwaukee Country Transit System Bus

Milwaukee Country Transit System Bus

Milwaukee County finally has a plan to address the controversial GO Pass program. Originally approved in 2014, the program provides thousands of free bus rides for seniors and those with disabilities, but has faced huge cost overruns. The Milwaukee County Transit System and Milwaukee County Department of Transportation have come up with a plan to implement changes that could save $1.1 million in 2017 and more in future years when fully implemented.

Though relatively new, the program has already cost millions more than anticipated. In late 2014 the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors ignored warnings from MCTS director Dan Boehm and the Milwaukee County Commission on Aging when they created the Growing Opportunities (GO) Pass program with a hastily budgeted figure of $822,600. Those warnings proved prescient when in November 2015, Milwaukee County Comptroller Scott Manske issued a report showing the program was going to cost an additional $1.8 million through the end of 2015 for a total cost of $2.6 million. The 2016 budget, which was approved prior to the comptroller’s November 2015 memo, included a budgeted cost of $3.2 million for the program.

The 2017 budget includes a mid-year fix that will reduce the cost of the program by an estimated $1.1 million this year. That will be done by implementing a financial means test on GO Pass users, charging $5 for new cards and swapping the unlimited free rides for a $1 all-day pass when the card is used.

Boehm told the board’s Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee on March 8th that MCTS formed a workgroup to study implementing the changes consisting of representatives from the transit system, MCDOT, the Milwaukee County Department of Health & Human Services, the Milwaukee County Department of Administration, county board member David Sartori and advocacy groups for persons with disabilities and seniors, including the Grand Avenue Club. The recommendations from the workgroup are to be put in place June 1st.

The recommendations include using the county’s Aging Resource Center and Disability Resource Center to confirm if existing program participants comply with the fiscal means test. To be eligible for the program, two conditions must be met. One, you must either receive Social Security or have a Veterans Disability designation. Two, you must receive Medicaid benefits. MCTS has applied this new threshold since January 17th to new applicants and has charged the $5 fee since January 3rd. All of the approximately 26,000 existing GO Pass holders will receive a letter informing them of their status. Those that no longer comply with the standards set forth in the budget will receive notice that their pass will expire within a month. Those that are deemed ineligible for the revised program will be able to purchase bus fares for half-price using the county’s M-Card fare system.

On June 1st MCTS anticipates they will begin charging the $1 day pass fee for GO Pass users. Users will be able to pre-load the passes onto their GO Pass cards at one of the MCTS fare outlets or pay the fee on-board the bus.

At the committee hearing on the changes, Deborah Love of the Grand Avenue Club spoke against the change, citing concerns over the cost and the procedure for implementing the changes. Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 998, which represents the system’s bus drivers and mechanics, registered in favor of the plan.

Sup. Sartori, a senior citizen who has a GO Pass, stated at the hearing that he doesn’t use it (and waved a half-fare M-Card), but voted against the change at committee. With no explanation, Sartori reversed his vote at the full board meeting on March 28th, joining the other board members in voting unanimously to approve the measure.

The Milwaukee County Transit System has a $160.5 million budget for 2017, down $2.6 million from 2016 and almost $5 million from 2015.

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Fixes GO Pass”

  1. nick says:

    One edit note: The last sentence of the article has a typo. I believe it should read: “and almost $5 million from 2015.”

    Secondly….who the h*ck came up with the $823k figure???? With estimates like that they need to hire someone else far, far more competent.

    And Finally: The changes actually seem pretty good. Means testing makes tons of sense. And the nominal fee will keep a small amount (the right amount) of ‘skin in the game’ for the users of the bus pass, while bringing in a bit of revenue for the service.
    On that note- Any idea what the estimated amount of revenue generated by the changes will be?

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Nick – The estimate was that it would reduce the cost by $1.1 million, so I’m assuming that is the amount of revenue that would be brought in. That said, they also could be anticipating just fewer rides being taken, which would also theoretically reduce the cost.

  3. charlie watkins says:

    As an elderly person who uses the GO pass occasionally, these changes will actually cost the State more.
    As a fiscally conservative person I had resisted using Food Share or Medicaid. I believe the Food Share program should be reserved for those that really need it, by living within my means I’ve been able to avoid having to use it. As a low income person I’m eligible to get on Medicaid, so the State can pay the premium for my Medicare, I received with my SSI, I resisted this also, electing to pay my premiums out of my own pocket. These changes force me to join both programs, costing the State of Wisconsin about $200.00 per month (the approximate amount I would receive in taxpayer money to pay for these programs.) in an effort to save about $10.00 (the amount I spend riding the bus per month, actually it’s probably a lot less.)

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