Bus Line to Foxconn Could Transport Workers
Lipscomb proposal could transport thousands, promote regional transportation.
Milwaukee residents need jobs and Foxconn needs workers. So, Milwaukee County Board Chair Theo Lipscomb has introduced a proposal that would link downtown Milwaukee to the Foxconn campus to Downtown Racine through a regional bus route.
Lipscomb presented the proposal to the Committee on Transportation, Public Works and Transit today. The proposal was placed on file with the committee by a unanimous vote. “This is a start of the conversation,” Lipscomb said. “Unfortunately, there’s been very little said about what Milwaukee would do to connect to those jobs.”
Foxconn is set to operate its flat-screen manufacturing plant 24 hours a day on two 12-hour shifts and the transit line would be structured around those shifts. To make that happen all partners need to be involved from the state down through the municipalities and the company, Lipscomb said.
Some local leaders and the local Amalgamated Transit Union have, for years, advocated an expansion of bus routes to a regional level. Now with Foxconn and its creation of more jobs for area municipalities, Lipscomb believes that if there was ever a possibility for regional transit, this is it.
Lipscomb is proposing using about $4.5 million that’s currently sitting in a bank account, having been deposited there following the sale of a former Midwest Airlines airport hangar. This money needs to be divvied up between Milwaukee County, Racine County and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. Rather than entering into negotiations to do this, or in the worst-case scenario – litigation, Lipscomb would like to get together with the partners and use this money for the transit proposal, “instead of thinking parochially,” he said.
“It would be wrong if all we did was fight over how we divvy up the money, and sort of squander the opportunity to work together again, regionally, and connect workers to those opportunities,” he warned.
The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) produced a report on Lipscomb’s proposal and found that as many as 1,300 riders could use the program, which is about 10 percent of the expected workforce for the Foxconn plant.
In their report they produced three alternatives for how the program can run, each scaling up in riders and cost. SEWRPC notes that Racine runs a line with coach buses today, albeit through a private contractor, that runs from Kenosha to Milwaukee and charges a $4 fare. With that as a starting point, SEWRPC figured in the cost for using MCTS employees and buses as well as the potential cost of contracting for the service.
James Macon, President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, supports the expansion, as he has supported expanding transit to a regional level for years. But he said the union would fight any efforts to privatize a regional expansion of the system. “A fight they don’t want,” he added.
If MCTS does operate the lines, then at least three to four buses, at roughly $500,000 each, will need to be purchased to run the least involved alternative in the SEWRPC report. But if operated by a private coach service, the cost to the County would likely be “10 to 40 percent more per revenue hour,” according to the report.
Committee Chair Michael Mayo supported the proposal, emphasizing that this proposal is first and foremost about jobs. He called the $4.5 million “seed money” and emphasized that as the proposal moves forward, dedicated funding sources should be explored.
Lipscomb conceded there are still details to be worked out on his proposal: “Again, this is not the final product, this is a concept,” he said.
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