Graham Kilmer

Without Sales Tax Hike Paratransit Will Shrink

Some 700 county residents with disabilities could be left without transportation.

By - Jul 26th, 2023 10:13 am

MCTS Transit Plus van. Photo courtesy of MCTS.

Milwaukee County Transportation officials are “raising the alarm” that without an increase to the countywide sales tax, cuts to transit will also affect the county’s paratransit program, leaving as many as 700 people with disabilities stranded in transit deserts.

The Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) provides Paratransit services for people with disabilities who cannot independently access a typical fixed-route bus. And it provides this service above and beyond what is federally required.

Without additional revenue, the transit system is on a path to a $25 million or more budget shortfall in 2025. The system already began making service cuts in 2023 to begin dampening the blow. If this fiscal scenario comes to pass, MCTS has estimated that it will need to cut half of all bus routes by 2025.

“So goes fixed route, so goes paratransit,” said Fran Musci, director of paratransit services.

Currently, federal law requires that a transit system operate paratransit within three-quarters of a mile of fixed route service. MCTS exceeds this requirement. “We’ve always provided border-to-border service,” Musci said.

If half of the county’s bus routes are eliminated, bus service will all but disappear from a number of the county’s outlying suburbs on its northern and southern ends. When those routes disappear, the federally required paratransit footprint will be rolled back. And given the transit system’s dire financial straits, county transportation officials have told Urban Milwaukee it’s very likely they would be forced to recommend a reduction in paratransit service to that federally required footprint.

“This is something that’s never been contemplated in Milwaukee County before,” Musci said. “And as a person who works closely with a lot of people with disabilities, I am devastated to hear what could happen.”

If a 0.4% increase in the sales tax is approved, the county’s structural deficit would disappear in 2024 and 2025, according to financial projections. It would also free up as much as $52 million in property tax revenue that was previously being used to pay down the county’s massive unfunded pension obligations. If it’s not approved, not only will there be no new revenue to help the transit system weather its fiscal cliff, but by 2028 the county would not longer have enough property tax revenue to contribute to the MCTS budget.

If paratransit service is rolled back there will be sections of Franklin, Oak Creek and communities in the far northwest and northeast side of Milwaukee County that have no paratransit service. Approximately 700 county residents with disabilities would lose access to the transportation service that they use approximately 18,000 times a year to access everything from healthcare to the grocery store, Musci said.

“Many of those riders are effectively stranded without paratransit,” Musci said. “Many are using a wheelchair or scooter or some type of mobility device to get around.

Nothing exists in the county that would match the cost to the rider for the service paratransit provides.

“We have riders who are taking our service three times a week to go to dialysis, we have riders who are going to all kinds of medical appointments, adult children with disabilities going to day programs, we have people going to all sorts of social things, people use our services to get to family funerals, to get to their sister’s birthday party, to Brewers games, anything like that,” Musci said.

One piece of paratransit, the taxi service, will likely end before the start of 2024. Advocates and riders have decried the loss of this one piece of the service. Now they face the potential disappearance of paratransit for approximately 700 of the county’s disabled residents

Musci said she’s trying to “sound the alarm” that paratransit is “at a high risk for being cut” as the board approaches this pivotal vote Thursday. Elected officials at both the county and state levels need to know, she said, how important their decisions are in the daily lives of the county’s paratransit riders.

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More about the Local Government Fiscal Crisis

Read more about Local Government Fiscal Crisis here

More about the Paratransit Service Debate

Read more about Paratransit Service Debate here

One thought on “Transportation: Without Sales Tax Hike Paratransit Will Shrink”

  1. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    The free grocery trips for the handicapped have been
    cut from 4 to 2 per month. Even if one could push 2 carts
    on each trip, some produce would rot before the next trip.

    There is no option in the program to pay
    for the 2 missing trips.

    So start eating crap or go on a diet and
    curtail your activities.
    Oops I forgot – you can blanch some produce
    and freeze it. Just pile that on top of
    the rest of your ADL’ s!

    The best approach is to tell the state to
    shove their manipulative pseudo-laws.
    We and OUR elected officials will tax ourselves
    if and as WE see fit in OUR city and county.

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