Graham Kilmer
Transportation

County Supervisors Push Free Bus Rides

Passengers could use side door, away from bus drivers, to protect them from getting virus.

By - Mar 24th, 2020 01:40 pm
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MCTS Bus. Photo by Michael Horne.

MCTS Bus. Photo by Michael Horne.

Seven Milwaukee County Board members are proposing to make bus service free for at least three weeks in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The supervisors sent a letter to County Executive Chris Abele Monday asking for his support of the measure. In the letter they say that making transit service free will allow riders to use the side door near the middle of the bus, so bus drivers can reduce exposure to the public during the pandemic.

They write, “allowing passengers to enter through the side door will allow the safety drivers need to keep passengers away from the fare box/driver area” The supervisors hope that at the end of the three weeks, bus drivers will have “the appropriate protective gear in order to continue bus services safely.”

Supervisors John Weishan, Jr., Sequanna Taylor, Felesia Martin, Marcelia Nicholson, Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, Steven Shea and Deanna Alexander signed the letter. The board, however, has 18 members. But the seven supervisors haven’t proposed legislation and apparently want the Abele administration, which oversees the Milwaukee County Transit Service (MCTS), to take emergency action. Urban Milwaukee has attempted to contact Abele, but has not heard back so far. We will update the story if we do. 

Last week it was confirmed that an MCTS bus operator tested positive and was treated for COVID-19. Dan Boehm, managing director of MCTS, told reporters that they were working with the City of Milwaukee health department to identify what other drivers shared a bus with the individual.

Boehm also said the health department reviewed the plastic shield by the driver’s chair and said they were not worried about contact between the drivers and the public.

Still, the shield has been a point of contention long before the COVID-19 pandemic. It was an issue that repeatedly came up during negotiations between the Amalgamated Transit Union 998 and MCTS. Union leaders and members criticized the shield, saying it did little to protect the drivers. However, they weren’t talking about an infectious disease at that point, but about attacks on bus operators by passengers.

MCTS has already reduced bus service in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Service is currently following a schedule patterned after the one used on Saturdays in normal times. Abele has said the system has already seen a “dramatic reduction in ridership” since the onset of the coronavirus. 

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2 thoughts on “Transportation: County Supervisors Push Free Bus Rides”

  1. 45 years in the City says:

    Bad idea – Free Fares would encourage people to ride without thinking about whether the trip is truly essential – thus causing more people to be in close proximity. Exactly the opposite of what being recommended by officials.

  2. Edward Susterich says:

    It might not be a good idea now, but….

    Consider “free” public transportation in the future. Consider the Luxembourg example:
    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/05/luxembourg-to-become-first-country-to-make-all-public-transport-free

    “Free” public transportation is a great complement to the “free” streets, highways, and even sidewalks provided by our partial “Socialist” sytem.

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