Graham Kilmer

Free Bus Rides Start Saturday

Riders can use rear door eliminating interaction between drivers and passengers.

By - Mar 27th, 2020 07:58 am
A Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus from Gillig. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) bus from Gillig. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Starting this Saturday at 4 a.m. the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) will suspend fare collection.

The idea behind free fares is to reduce interaction between bus operators and riders, protecting public health during this COVID-19 pandemic, not to boost ridership.

With suspended fares, all riders can enter the bus through the rear door, unless they need assistance with a mobility device or have an ADA accommodation, said Dan Boehm, managing director Milwaukee County Transit System.

Seven Milwaukee County Supervisors sent a letter to County Executive Chris Abele asking the administration to suspend fares. In their letter they asked for at least three weeks of fare suspension, in the hopes that timeline would give MCTS long enough to acquire adequate personal protective equipment for the operators.

Boehm said that all public transit use should be limited to essential travel only. “Buses may be free, but you are safer at home,” he said. And if you do use public transit, leave at least six feet of space between yourself and the nearest passenger. Also, if you are coughing our sneezing, “You should not be traveling by bus,” Boehm said during a Thursday afternoon media briefing.

Right now the Federal Transit Administration is developing a new grant program to help local transit systems fund operations as the pandemic has decimated farebox revenue and other funding sources. That $25 billion program will be funded through the $2.5 trillion stimulus package passed by the Senate late Wednesday night. That legislation still has to clear the House of Representatives and be signed by the President.

MCTS receives less than 30 percent of its revenue from fares. It relies on a combination of federal, state and county funding sources to sustain its operations.

Already there have been a number of changes to transit operations in Milwaukee County since the pandemic began. Last week the system announced a reduction in service. Before the service reduction went into effect, Abele said the system had already seen a “dramatic reduction in ridership” due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in the county. That’s held true. “Obviously ridership has been way way down, not surprisingly,” said Abele.

Last week, Urban Milwaukee reported that a bus operator had tested positive and been treated for COVID-19.

MCTS has outlined several new protocols for maintaining safety during the pandemic, including an extra disinfection process. A barrier between drivers and passengers intended to prevent assaults is also helping protect the drivers. “The Milwaukee Health Department took a look at the shield and said they are not concerned about the contact between passengers and operators,” said Boehm last week.

But Amalgamated Transit Union Local 998 leaders have long criticized the shield, saying it did little to protect operators from physical attacks by passengers. The union has called on MCTS to supply adequate personal protective equipment for the operators.

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Categories: Health, Transportation

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