Graham Kilmer

County Buses Will Collect Fares Again

Given county fiscal crisis MCTS needs revenue, will begin collecting fares again on June 1st

By - May 26th, 2020 05:29 pm
MCTS bus. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

MCTS bus. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Beginning June 1st, the Milwaukee County Transit Service (MCTS) will begin collecting bus fares again.

The transit system is going back to fare collection next week because the COVID-19 pandemic and ensueing economic shutdown has created a fiscal crisis for Milwaukee County, requiring it to find revenues wherever possible. In a statement, MCTS said, “Fares are needed given the rising costs and lost revenue resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Dan Boehm, managing director of MCTS said during a media briefing Tuesday that the system normally collects approximately $2.5 million in fares every month, and in the past 60 days it has lost approximately $1.6 million in revenue. Even before ending collection, fares were dropping at the start of the pandemic as ridership decreased.

So it’s time to help address this year’s budget and some of the fiscal concerns at Milwaukee County by bringing in some of those revenues,” Boehm said.

MCTS received a $54.5 million allocation from the federal stimulus package called the CARES Act, to offset increased expenditures and lost revenues during the pandemic. Boehm told the county board’s committee on Transportation, Public Works and Transit Tuesday morning “we are being as careful as we can with those resources.” While that figure is a lot of money, he explained, it’s important to make it last as long as possible throughout the pandemic, which likely won’t be over until there is a vaccine.

County officials estimate that the cost of the pandemic to the entire county government could approach $450 million. Budget projections for 2021 show that county leaders could face an unprecedented budget gap when they begin assembling next year’s budget.

MCTS stopped collecting fares in late March in an attempt to limit interaction between passengers and bus operators. This allowed all passengers to enter through the back doors. The transit system also instituted a limit of 10 riders per bus, which is still in place. But other than the Freeway Flyers, which aren’t running right now, the bus schedule is running just as it was before the pandemic.

Boehm encouraged the use of contactless payment methods for bus fares. Riders can wave their Mcard over farebox to pay, or they can use the MCTS to purchase tickets and simply show the operator their ticket on their phone. He also said it’s important that riders limit interaction and conversation with bus operators as much as possible.

Boehm also encouraged wearing face coverings when riding the bus. Milwaukee County still does not have a mandatory face covering policy. Other transit companies have recently instituted such rules.

Boehm told the transit committee he was leery of a mandatory face covering rule. Not everyone has access to masks, he said, and enforcement of the rule poses significant challenges. The last thing the system wants is “transit security officers dragging somebody out the back door of a bus because they weren’t wearing a mask,” he said, as has happened elsewhere during the pandemic.

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One thought on “Transportation: County Buses Will Collect Fares Again”

  1. 45 years in the City says:

    This would be a good time to phase out cash fares. The standard argument that this might be a hardship to some riders made sense when paper tickets required a minimum purchase of 10 rides (equivalent to $20 in today’s fares). The M-Card only requires a minimum load of $2, and if registered is protected against loss or theft. The administrative fee to acquire an M-Card is recouped after only eight uses.

    Other systems around the world have done this, notably London in 2014.

    The expense of processing cash and the bus delays associated with cash fare payment are now joined by health safety as reasons to discontinue cash. The smart phone app is also available as an alternative.

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