Wisconsin Public Radio

Abele Urges Bus Drivers to Settle Contract

Union and county transit system have been in contract fight for 18 months.

By , Wisconsin Public Radio - Aug 30th, 2019 05:25 pm
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A MCTS bus. Photo courtesy of MCTS.

A MCTS bus. Photo courtesy of MCTS.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele is asking the bus drivers union to set aside their differences so Milwaukee County Transit can find a way to get more money from the state.

Milwaukee County and its bus drivers have been in contentious contract negotiations for more then 18 months. In an open letter sent Thursday to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998, Abele praised bus drivers for their hard work, but stressed the county has reached a financial crisis point.

“We rely heavily on state funding for our transit system; and that funding has not kept up with our needs, especially as the cost of service increases,” Abele wrote in the letter. “State law caps our ability to collect funding from local taxes, so the County Board and I are limited in investing in the transit system at the level we deserve.”

Facing a $6.4 million budget deficit next year, Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) is preparing to reduce bus service by 10 percent in 2020. This includes freeway flyer routes, city routes and shuttles.

In 2019, nearly 3 percent of MCTS’s routes were reduced. The county’s transit system, which helps people get to work and school in a city where 30 percent of residents don’t own a car, has 56 routes a day. Bus routes run seven days a week, 22 hours a day.

Richard Olson has been a bus driver for 25 years in Milwaukee. He said cutting routes will segregate the city even more.

“It makes no sense to me to cut service for kids trying to get to school and people trying to go to work,” Olson said. “People trying to better themselves? We should be doing everything we can to do better for them.”

The union and Milwaukee County have been battling over bus driver pay, health care benefits and routes. Union President James Macon said the drivers will review the county’s latest proposal next month.

Abele said the county is seeking a long-term funding solution from Madison to “do right by the drivers.”

The contract being proposed to drivers includes a 2 percent raise upon signing with another 1.1 percent raise on April 1, 2020. Employees would continue to receive cost-of-living wage adjustments, with a cap of 2.5 percent annually.

“Let us implement this contract and get employees the raises they deserve, so that we can start working together to find a long-term funding solution from the state and pave a new road for our future,” Abele said.

Gov. Tony Evers has already taken action to increase funding for Milwaukee County specifically and all localities generally, said Evers’ spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said.

“We know that it’s not just large cities that are facing funding challenges, but our rural communities too, so we hope that our Republican in the Legislature will join us in funding our local governments fairly,” Baldauff said.

report last fall on Wisconsin’s public transportation systems found inadequate funding has prevented many communities from expanding service.

Representatives from the Wisconsin GOP did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Abele could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Listen to the WPR report here.

Milwaukee County Executive Calls For Unity Among Bus Drivers In Fight For State Funding was originally published by Wisconsin Public Radio.

More about the 2020 MCTS Budget

3 thoughts on “Abele Urges Bus Drivers to Settle Contract”

  1. Lee Bitts says:

    If I were a bus driver, I’d be afraid to strike because the cuts might even be worse further down the road.

    There might be a short-term gain but long-term – I don’t think so.

    The bus company should be profitable. Why aren’t there many more riders? Why are people in general so hell bent on being in automobiles? It’s selfish and self-serving to need a gas consuming vehicle to take your puny little body around from place to place as quickly and as conveniently as possible. All important me needs the convenience of the automobile, right?

    Doesn’t anyone care about fossil fuel burning and emissions? Doesn’t anyone care about the environment and the immediate future of the planet??

    Go explore Milwaukee 7 days a week. Get on the bus!!

  2. Barbara Richards says:

    How can we make driving an automobile a thing of the past? There are examples where cities have closed the downtown areas to autos and require walking, was transit, or cycling. The wheel tax, raising parking rates, businesses downtown giving health benefits if you don’t drive and transit passes for those who bike or ride transit. Just switching to electric is not the answer. As above, reducing our “convenience” addiction is important.

  3. Lee Bitts says:

    Barbara Richards: Thank you for posting your comment. I am glad to know someone else agrees with my POV re: automobile dependence. Usually, if you make a climate-change themed comment, you get nothing but silence in return. No one wants to talk about it.

    But it’s sad to me that the transit company is in the red and has been for years. I can’t believe everyone can afford the cost of gasoline and the maintenance costs of owning an automobile. So many people are making low wages in the fast food industry and so many of them ironically have college degrees which should qualify them for something more – certainly something they actually studied for.

    The bus may not be as quick and as convenient as an automobile in getting from place to place but I would say that by comparison it is very cost effective. Take the bus a while and see how much money you can save for other things you may want to have in your life.

    Try to make a personal pledge that you will ride the bus more often to show and prove your solidarity with the select few people on this planet who are concerned about climate change.

    And let me ask you this: If you opened a coffee shop and no one came in to buy a cup, wouldn’t you ask “why?” The bus company people should be asking this question, too. Why are people not riding the bus? What can we do to entice them to ride it? This involves marketing. It seems all we read about is the “cut service and routes” option as if it were the only solution. And yes, if your marketing efforts are successful, you could probably realize the dream of a “profitable” transit system. Don’t you think?

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