Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Goodbye to MCTS Free Ride

County begins charging for controversial GO Pass program in June.

By - Apr 26th, 2017 07:57 am
Milwaukee Country Transit System Bus

Milwaukee Country Transit System Bus

Big changes are coming to the Milwaukee County Transit System on June 26th. The controversial GO Pass program that provides a free bus pass to senior citizens and the disabled will no longer be free. The program, which has cost millions more than expected, has provided over 13.5 million rides to-date.

The program will still provide a substantially discounted ticket to those that need it. Those who qualify for the program under a new means test will be able to use their card to purchase a day pass for $1 at any MCTS fare outlet or on-board the bus.

Approximately 11,000 of the 26,000 current GO Pass holders will have their passes deactivated on June 12th because they failed an initial means test. To be eligible for the program, those over 65 must be receiving Medicaid or FoodShare. Those under 65 must either receive Social Security or have a Veterans Disability designation and receive Medicaid or FoodShare benefits.

Existing pass holders will receive a letter notifying them of their status this week. Riders who do not qualify for the GO Pass may be eligible for the MCTS reduced fare of $1.10 a ride, $2 for a 1-Day Pass, or $32 for a 31-Day Pass.

MCTS has applied the new threshold since January 17th to new applicants and has charged a $5 card issuance fee since January 3rd. MCTS reports that 497 individuals have been issued passes since the means test was instituted.

As part of the overhaul, beginning June 26th MCTS will transfer administration of the program, including issuance of new cards, to the Milwaukee County Aging and Disability Resource Centers at 1220 W. Vliet St.

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 June fix, part of 2017 budget, is expected to reduce the cost of the program by an estimated $1.1 million this year.

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.

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11 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Goodbye to MCTS Free Ride”

  1. Ed Werstein says:

    I expected this, and I don’t mind paying the new fare, since I won’t pass the means test. But, I do think the cost of the program has been exaggerated a bit. I’ll ride less often now, as presumably will others, and the buses run whether there are 5 people on board or 50.

  2. Sam says:

    Good. This was an obvious illustration of bad governance.

    I don’t care if you give away or don’t give away free bus rides to the elderly and disabled, as long as you budget for it accordingly and don’t ignore the facts. That’s your job.

  3. hinty says:

    Semantics: COST of program is incorrect terminology. Increase/decrease in REVENUE is more correct. Are they going to cut back on routes correspondingly? If not, this change will create almost ZERO cost savings (aside from tiny program administrative savings), because the same number of buses will run every day, with or without these riders. Now, revenues might go up if a few of the formerly free riders now buy fares. Don’t count on it though.

  4. Zelda says:

    To Ed Werstein and hinty ~ AMEN! You hit the nail on the head!

  5. Winter says:

    I think its horrible its elderly people who depend on that in so many ways so make it harder for the people that are barely making it cause I’m sure they barely doing it based off ssi…or the va when they receiving food share and medicaid….really

  6. Dwayne Moore says:

    Yes there are those who will abuse the program, just as I see people during a certain time of the month loading their carts with “steak.” They were/are abusing the program. Then there are some of us who do not have their own means of transportation due to legitimate problems whether they be medical or other. I am not able to drive because I have been under doctor’s care for almost my entire live due to me having epilepsy. This is the same reason that I do not have a driver’s license. I work everyday with MPS and have so for the last 25 years. Before this program started, I paid full fare. If there are programs there that I meet the requirements for, I will. I have been a taxpayer, working a legitimate job so why should I not receive what is due to me. People like myself should not be taxed due to others that are playing the system and are always looking to get over on the system.

  7. Bill Sell says:

    It is part of the job of government to provide an essential service where there is no alternative. I have no objection to free riders (means tested) but all unemployed seniors could be helped if they had access to buses outside of the rush hours.

    Such a policy would put the free riders on buses that have seats available, a win win from many points of view. Employed seniors (rush hour riders) would pay because they can afford it and because they board the already busy buses.

    Aside from seniors, pricing by hour of the day is another way to encourage a more even distribution of riders – and a growth in ridership numbers. Minneapolis:

    Milwaukee has worked out an incentive that Minneapolis does not use; our transit offers lower cost rides (day pass, etc.) for those with an MCard. Getting more people on the MCard, instead of paying cash, has streamlined administration of the fare box, and helps the planners to determine how and when routes are being used.

  8. Dwayne Moore says:

    to “Hinty”, until you have sat in the seat of someone that has epilepsy please consider. I would rather bike it, but would that even be safe for myself or someone else. I do not want to put my life nor nobody else’s in harms way. No, I should not have to be taxed because others are getting over on the system. Please consider both sides of the coin. A one sided coin is of no value to anyone.

  9. Jan says:

    I was really ticked off at the statements made by Brendan Conway on WDJT TV58 on 4/27 regarding the elimination of the GO Pass. He basically said that they were discontinuing it because “people who had means were part of this program…who could have paid for their own rides.” He was hinting that people were SO abusing the program that the company was forced to discontinue it. His smarmy grin did nothing to improve things, while he was blaming people in need for their company’s problems. Many elderly or disabled folks will readily pay a dollar a day for the bus, but to describe those folks as somehow ‘gaming the system’ shows that Mr.Conway should be working elsewhere where his racist and bigoted take on things are seen as okay.
    Anyone who got a GO Pass was required to show income and/or medical documentation. Not easy to fake. If you look at past news coverage of when the Pass was first introduced, you’ll see that many people thought it was a bad idea. Management needs to address their place in the failure of this plan and not blame the riders.

  10. Rodney Johnson says:

    I wonder if the same sort of concern was demonstrated when $600 Million was given to Build the new Bucks arena? Will there be any benefit in the form of profit participation for the city..

    Providing this benefit for elderly and disabled persons also makes Milwaukee a better place to live, just because it is the right thing to do.

  11. charlie watkins says:

    How much will be actually saved when I am forced to enroll in Medicaid (which will cost at least $107.00) and Food Share (unknown amount) to enable me to ride the bus once or twice a month? Keep in mind I am an elderly disabled veteran, who only rides the bus to the VA Hospital and back, maybe once or twice a month.

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