Should Milwaukee Stop The Hop?
Alderman proposes this, but suspending the service might cost more than it saves.
The City of Milwaukee is facing a budget crisis and a federal grant that funds startup operations of The Hop, Milwaukee’s streetcar system, will soon run out.
The city will need to allocate $3.2 million from the city’s parking-centric transportation fund to operate the system in 2021, the first time it has needed to tap its own revenues to operate the system.
So why not simply suspend the service until the crisis is over?
“When we decided to make this improvement we did it in significant part with federal money and as part of that we entered into kind of a contractual agreement or project agreement with the federal government,” said Polenske. “We do have an obligation to operate this for the life of the improvement.”
The federal government contributed $69.1 million to the $128.1 million system, including the partially-completed lakefront line.
“I have had written conversations with the Federal Transit Administration and they certainly have concurred that we do have a legal obligation as part of that contractual agreement to continue to operate,” said Polenske. The commissioner said the contract includes benchmarks for frequency and hours of service.
But even if the city could halt operations temporarily, Polenske said there would be costs to that. “There really isn’t a shutting down option. There still is this underlying operation that needs to take place to maintain the infrastructure and maintain the vehicles,” he said. “There is also a cost of having to retrain the workforce that operates the system.”
Cincinnati took the highly unusual step with its system, similar in length to Milwaukee’s, of operating with no passengers from late March through early September instead of suspending operations. The move avoided restart costs estimated to run from $325,000 to $1 million.
The commissioner said the service has become an “essential” part of the city’s transportation network. “Well it is a single route, we are part of a system,” said Polenske. MCTS rerouted routes 15 and 30 as part of the system’s construction to avoid duplicating service.
Murphy, who voted for the system, said he would be submitting a formal letter to DPW asking for a written opinion.
Ald. Scott Spiker, who hasn’t been in office long enough to vote on the system, said he was concerned about the costs. “One might think people can be reasoned with in these extraordinary times,” said the far southside alderman.
Polenske said the streetcar did receive federal aid via an allocation to transit systems through the CARES Act and he anticipated a second bailout would also include The Hop. The Milwaukee area received approximately $62 million from a formula-based $25 billion transit bailout. Over $50 million went to MCTS.
The Hop is budgeted to cost $4.5 million in 2021 according to Mayor Tom Barrett‘s budget proposal. A total of $1.2 million would come from Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s sponsorship, a delayed-but-not-canceled kiosk system and other sponsorship deals. A city reports says $110,000 would come from a Section 5307 FTA grant.
The 2.1-mile system is scheduled to be free to ride in 2021.
There is a precedent for the federal government seeking its funds back. The Downtown Transit Center, the now-demolished bus facility at 909 E. Michigan St., had not reached the end of its life when it was sold. In order to avoid having to repay a couple million dollars in unamortized costs to the federal government, a transit concourse for The Hop and East-West bus rapid transit line will be constructed in the base of The Couture tower.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.
- City Hall: Council Delays on Federal COPS Grant - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 25th, 2020
- City Hall: Council Overrides One of Two Barrett Vetos - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 24th, 2020
- City Hall: Barrett Issues Two Budget Vetoes - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 18th, 2020
- City Hall: $1.6 Billion Adopted Budget Raises Fees, Cuts Police - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 6th, 2020
- Transportation: Budget Amendment Would Move Milwaukee Towards “Vision Zero” - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 30th, 2020
- City Hall: Committee Approves Over 20 Amendments To Milwaukee Budget - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 30th, 2020
- City Hall: Almost Half of Budget Amendments Are Policy Footnotes - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 29th, 2020
- City Hall: Community Groups Propose Changes - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 19th, 2020
- City Hall: City Could Lose 30 More Police Officers - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 19th, 2020
- Transportation: Should Milwaukee Stop The Hop? - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 13th, 2020
Read more about 2021 Milwaukee Budget here
For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Transportation: Streetcar Service Goes From Bad To Worse - Jeramey Jannene - May 3rd, 2022
- Transportation: Should National Avenue Rebuild Include Plans for Streetcar? - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 8th, 2022
- Transportation: Maintenance Issues Reduce The Hop’s Schedule - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 4th, 2022
- Transportation: Congress Extends Streetcar Grant - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 16th, 2022
- City Needs Act of Congress Because of Couture-Streetcar Delay - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 1st, 2022
- Transportation: Streetcar Study Draws Controversy - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 27th, 2021
- Transportation: Streetcar Returning To Full Schedule - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 26th, 2021
- Transportation: Southside Streetcar Study, Street Improvements Approved - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 20th, 2021
- Transportation: City Proposes Study of Streetcar to Walker’s Point - Jeramey Jannene - Jul 8th, 2021
- Transportation: First Streetcar Smart Kiosks Installed - Jeramey Jannene - Apr 3rd, 2021
Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here