Last Minute Amendment Saves Job Line
County board will pay to extend bus line to jobs in Waukesha, Washington counties.
Bus routes that take economically disadvantaged Milwaukee residents to work in outlying counties faced a fate unknown as funding for the lines was set to run out by January, but a budget amendment passed in committee by Milwaukee County Supervisors Wednesday will save one of them at least through August 2019.
The amendment came from Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic and County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, Sr., and it will reconfigure routes 57 and 19 to cover route 61’s service area. And it will additionally use $661,000 in general transportation aid revenue to have route 57 continue to bring Milwaukee residents into Waukesha County for work. The available general transportation aid was recent news for the board, and they shifted that aid to other departments and used tax levy revenue to fund the line. So there is no change in the tax levy with this funding extension.
Besides Route 61, there is a second job line, Route 6, which runs along Moorland Rd. and eventually into a New Berlin industrial park, and which had much lower ridership. That line will be discontinued. The Milwaukee County Transit System reconfigured routes 57 and 19 to provide service to those served within Milwaukee County, but had originally proposed not running the lines into Waukesha and Washington County as route 61 had. But board members noted that hundreds of Milwaukee residents use Route 61 to get to jobs in the two outlying counties.
The “Job Lines,” as they came to be called, were created thanks to a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Milwaukee Inner City Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin. They sued the state arguing that planning for the Zoo Interchange disregarded unemployed and disadvantaged residents in Milwaukee’s central city. In 2014, they won a settlement of more than $13 million to bus Milwaukee residents to jobs outside the county. Without that lawsuit, Lipscomb said, Milwaukee County wouldn’t have the data to show that when residents have access to jobs in other communities, they utilize them.
“Job Lines are critical to inner city workers’ ability to get to family supporting jobs in Waukesha County,” said Joyce Ellwanger, a representative of MICAH. “With this amendment we are looking forward to collaborating on finding a permanent solution.”
This amendment came together very quickly after a public meeting Monday when a number of residents and advocates went before the board and urged them to fund the lines through 2019. Thanks in part to advocacy groups like MICAH and supervisor Dimitrijevic, who has been looking into the issue for months now, her colleagues said, they managed to get the amendment together in about 36 hours.
“People spoke and we listened. And not only did we listen we are acting,” Dimitrijevic said. “We’re gonna use our county resources, we’re gonna put our money where our mouths are.”
At stake are hundreds of jobs to some of Milwaukee’s most economically disadvantaged residents, and if the job line to outlying counties was ended in December those jobs would likely have been lost. The line to Waukesha and Washington Counties services nearly 700 employers that otherwise wouldn’t have bus service.
Waukesha and Washington counties and their business communities are also benefiting from the line. But neither county has offered any funding to extend the bus service into their counties.
“I’m just sick of hearing people acknowledge that they know there’s a problem, but not have any solid proposal to even try to address it,” Lipscomb said. As previously reported, Waukesha County Board Chairman Paul Decker has long been aware of the issue, but has said there has been little push by businesses in his county to retain the job line.
Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman was notably irritated that Milwaukee County was funding this extension benefiting Waukesha County, while it has “no skin in the game,” all because the deadline was fast approaching.
To which Lipscomb responded: “I’m not willing to play a game of chicken which is essentially where we were at, everyone was waiting for someone else to step up.”
Wasserman urged Lipscomb and others to pressure Waukesha County and its businesses to work with the county on long term solutions. And part of the amendment does in fact call upon the county’s intergovernmental relations staff to work on the issue. Lipscomb said he planned to call Decker in Waukesha after the meeting Wednesday.
James Macon, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, suggested to the committee that they consider a zone fare if Waukesha County doesn’t pony up some support. The fare would work like a tax or toll that buses coming from other counties must pay to drop their residents off in Milwaukee. Macon said years ago MCTS had to pay a zone fare when dropping riders off in Brookfield Square. Wasserman liked the idea and asked corporation counsel to look into its legality
“I want their foot to be held to the fire,” Wasserman said.
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