Graham Kilmer

Summerfest To Provide Shuttle Service

Private service will be twice as expensive and provide fewer stops than now cancelled public option.

By - Jun 3rd, 2022 10:52 am
People file out of Summerfest on the last night of the 2021 festival. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

People file out of Summerfest on the last night of the 2021 festival. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The organizers of Summerfest are hiring a private shuttle service for the second straight year after the Milwaukee County Transit System announced it will again not serve the festival.

Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. announced it will offer a round trip bus service between the festival and the following five park and ride lots in Milwaukee County:

  • Milwaukee/College Avenue Park and Ride (I-43/I-94/County ZZ/College Avenue)
  • Milwaukee/Holt Avenue Park and Ride (I-94/I-43/US 41/Holt Avenue)
  • Hales Corners Park and Ride (I-43/I-894/WIS 100)
  • West Allis Park and Ride (State Fair Grounds – I-94/76th Street)
  • Wauwatosa Park and Ride (US 45/Watertown Plank Road)

Roundtrip fares are $15 and only credit or debit cards will be accepted for payment.

Service will begin running at 5 p.m. on all nine days of the festival, running from June 23-25, June 30-July 2 and July 7-9.

MCTS said it wouldn’t provide the festival service because of an ongoing bus operator shortage, as well as lacking an adequate number of buses to provide the special service and the rest of the system’s regularly scheduled service at the same time.

The fares that will be charged for the private service this year are more than twice as expensive as the fares charged in 2019, the last year MCTS was able to provide it. It’s also offering half the service MCTS did.

The MCTS festival service included a downtown shuttle and was long a money-loser. In 2019, it was one of a number of bus services facing budget cuts. It escaped the knife then, but Dan Boehm, MCTS managing director, recently said the system had no plans to budget for this service next year or in the near future.

Don Smiley, CEO of Milwaukee World Festival, noted that the more expensive, diminished shuttle service it would provide was coming at a cost to the festival. “Our fans have asked for bus shuttle service, and we are happy to be able to provide and subsidize this convenient option again this year for the community,” said Smiley.

Milwaukee County taxpayers have long been subsidizing transportation services for the annual music festival. MCTS’ never took in enough revenue to cover the cost to operate it, as buses were often empty on their way out to park and rides during the day, and empty at night after the festival ends as they headed back to the grounds. The scale of the operation required additional staff to marshal buses in and out of the grounds.

MCTS and Summerfest never could have come to an agreement where the annual festival would financially contribute to the service MCTS provided. Boehm explained to a county board committee in May that the federal government has specific rules that forbid public transit systems from competing with the private sector, lest they become ineligible for federal transit funding.

“It really is impossible for the festivals to provide money,” he said. MCTS must provide it as a public service, because the second it accepts money from Summerfest it is in competition with private business.

Limited-run services, and other low-ridership routes like Freeway Flyers, have been the first MCTS has cut, but they likely won’t be the last. MCTS is facing a massive budget deficit in 2025 after federal COVID-19 stimulus funds run out, due in large part to declining ridership and long-term underinvestment in transit by the state.

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