Ald. Bob Donovan
Press Release

Moving Milwaukee Forward is a smarter, greener, faster and cheaper transit option for our future

“Similar on-demand transit operations are used in Europe, and I believe they are the cutting-edge way of the future.”

By - Feb 3rd, 2015 09:06 am

Today Alderman Bob Donovan is releasing his better transit alternative option for Milwaukee – Moving Milwaukee Forward — A Common Sense, Cutting Edge Transit Alternative: Transit-On-Demand/Premium Transit.

The bold Moving Milwaukee Forward option (see attached) proposes using reallocated federal streetcar funding to create cutting-edge, technology-driven transit-on-demand service and a premium fixed-route transit service using green-energy vehicles, Alderman Donovan said.

The system Alderman Donovan is proposing would utilize a smartphone app for riders and would allow on-demand service to key locations in a six-mile service area across Milwaukee.

“Similar on-demand transit operations are used in Europe, and I believe they are the cutting-edge way of the future,” Alderman Donovan said. “This system would also be smarter, faster and less expensive than the streetcar, and the green technology for some of the vehicles could be made locally by global leaders Johnson Controls or Rockwell Automation.”

“Most importantly, Moving Milwaukee Forward makes it abundantly clear that there are other, better alternatives available, and saddling Milwaukee with an archaic, expensive and ridiculous streetcar is simply unconscionable of the local ‘leaders’ who want to take us back to the 1950s,” he said.

Having the streetcar funding reallocated by Congress is difficult, but it is “definitely possible,” Alderman Donovan said.

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16 thoughts on “Moving Milwaukee Forward is a smarter, greener, faster and cheaper transit option for our future”

  1. PMD says:

    Isn’t On-Demand transit service called taxis, Uber, and Lyft? Would it be significantly cheaper? Is another U.S. city doing this (and is that where he came up with the idea)?

    How many fixed-routes would there be? Where would they go?

  2. Hereiam says:

    Wow, a half-way interesting alternative. Why wait until now to propose it? The money was allocated in 1991, the mayor proposed the first streetcar system in 2006, and by 2011 the streetcar had taken the current form and was voted on by the council. Where has Donovan’s plan been for the last 24 years?

    The proposal is kind of interesting (a public-Uber + bus rapid transit), but includes some funny math ($8m/mi construction will only cost us $4m/mi when you give up the dedicated lane for buses, which is the entire point of bus rapid transit). You have to wonder if Ald. Donovan would actually support this program if the mayor decided to back it.

  3. Dave says:

    I was interested until I got to the part where it said “Alderman Bob Donovan”. I did give it another shot, though, until I read this heaping pile of BS…

    “Mayor Barrett’s proposed downtown streetcar is none of these things and
    doesn’t get Milwaukeeans where they want to go. Rather, the streetcar is a major public
    works blunder in the making. This project has an exorbitant price tag, is woefully behind
    schedule, does not serve any significant transit need, and lacks a secure, long-term
    funding source. Most significantly, there is very little support for this initiative among
    Milwaukee residents.”

    Lie. Lie. Lie. I really like the part about “woefully behind schedule”. That’s really f***ing precious, Bob.

  4. CJ says:

    Five minibuses for a six-mile radius??

  5. Dale says:

    I read with interest, but the deeper I got the more it is little more than a last-second Hail Mary pass to stop the streetcar. Donovan has suddenly seen the light on all sorts of green, innovative, creative, European, and millennial-luring technologies? Not a chance. None of this is has been scrutinized or vetted, many of the assertions are questionable to say the least. What kind of reliability But he did find someone to make a nice document with pretty pictures, though. I especially love his knock this project has been woefully delayed…I wonder why that is? It’s a bit like if Donovan runs Barrett down with his car and puts him in a wheelchair, then campaigns later for mayor with the claim that Milwaukee needs able-bodied leadership.

  6. Dave says:

    If I understand this “plan” correctly (and that’s no easy feat considering it reads mostly like a political hatchet attack on Tom Barrett), I’m pretty sure this half baked hail mary alternative wouldn’t even be eligible for the federal funds in question.

  7. Eric says:

    I’m still confused why these funds can’t be used for Bus Rapid Transit if they can be used for this “on demand” transit idea. It seems like it is so hard to get anything done in this city with all the political red tape to cut through and public backlash. Lets just do something for once and get it done!!

  8. Hereiam says:

    @Eric if you are confused that is because opponents of the streetcar purposely muddy the issue. The streetcar funds are earmarked to be used on a streetcar system in downtown Milwaukee. Barring an act of Congress enacted into law by the President, the funds cannot be used for bus rapid transit.

  9. Russell Rossetto says:

    A wolf in sheeps clothing. Very interesting proposal, but the timing of it: very dubious indeed. Anyone who has read the proposal will see instances of Donovan debunking his own criticisms of the streetcar, ie the proposed route of the “premium fixed route service,” which is very similar in scope to the street car line, or completely forgetting his argument of not serving our less privileged communities which this plan doesn’t. Many of the advantages of fixed rail transit are glossed over or appropriated with this part of the proposal, and long term funding is not touched upon. That’s because operating and maintaining a battery operated fleet of that scale may not be as green or cheap as suggested. Once the streetcar is in the ground, the life of the equipment, simplicity of the technology and efficiency of using utility power directly rather than storing it in costly batteries that have a limited life span, make for a relatively lean operating budget.

    As for the on-demand minivan component, the vehicles are very nice. I’m not sure if a guy like Donovan really wants city government to compete directly against local free market operators, but for the moment the plan suits the future mayoral candidate. The idea of 5 mini buses as part of a “mass transit” solution is kinda funny, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t easily be part of the overall transit mix. I would definitely contribute to a Kickstarter campaign if Donovan or anyone else is interested in giving this angle a shot.

    Let’s get back to the urban transit planning discussion. Helsinki, Finland was mentioned. Turns out that Helsinki is a great case study. It is a port city on a finger of the Baltic Sea with a population of a bit over 600,000, one of the northern-most metro areas in Europe, with very cold weather and moderate snow fall. The public transport system of Helsinki region consists of trams (street car), metro (light rail), suburban metro (commuter rail), a subway system, a bus system and two ferry lines.

    The Tram system component of the Helsinki transit mix is analogous to Milwaukee’s proposed street car, although Helsinki never dismantled it’s original system. Its electric Tram system has been in continuous operation since 1900, and is dedicated to connecting the city’s most densely populated districts and neighboring areas. All of the routes are located on the streets, some in dedicated lanes and some in mixed traffic, conducting over 50 million passenger trips per year. The newest Tram route added in 2008 and all system cars of the same modern and comfortable caliber of vehicle as proposed for the Milwaukee Streetcar. (I nod my hat to Wikipedia for the last two paragraphs.)

    In the end, I am impressed with the sophistication of this hastily fabricated veneer of concern for transit that Donovan puts forth, and many elements of it are worth consideration, in the proper contexts. However, the timing of this thing lays bare a couple of things:

    1) The prime motivation of Donovan’s grandstanding on this issue is everything to do with positioning himself for a mayoral run and garnering financial support for his ambitions by doing the bidding of the Koch buddies, who despise rail in all forms except fright rail, which serves as mass transit for the commodities they deal in. Their influence is all too apparent in the speed, the high level of production, as well as the co-opting nature, of this “Moving Milwaukee Forward,” PR effort. This was not a cheaply constructed fluff piece, my friends. (I doubt the agency who was handsomely paid to produce it was local. Perhaps Ald. Donovan will let us know.)

    2) Either: a) Alderman Donovan has been asleep at the switch for the last ten years on the topic of urban public transportation, OR, b) Alderman Donovan isn’t really as concerned about urban public transportation as he pretends to be via this “Moving Milwaukee Forward” PR effort. I place my money on option b. In 2006, Donovan voted against a rubber tired, guided electric bus system, dubbed “the Milwaukee Connector,” which could also be described as a premium fixed route service. Donovan was in the minority on a 9-6 common council vote approving the Milwaukee Connector. What further feeds the irony on this one is the fact that the common council bill approving the Connector was vetoed by Mayor Tom Barrett, citing concerns about ongoing funding and other “unanswered questions,” in his veto message. (Thanks to the verifying the details above.)

    So, here we are again. 9 years later. Another vote on another urban transit project. The mayor who always supported public transit and wanted to do it right has a project that he trusts will move the city forward in an effective and responsible manner. The common council, the elected representatives of all the residents of the city, are by and large in agreement that this system will serve the needs of the city as a whole, even if the benefits may take years to reach their districts. At the final Public Works Committee meeting in December, the bill recommending approval to the common council gained several sponsors as chairs saw that this was going to go down in history and they wanted their name attached to it. At that same meeting some heavy hitters, among the sharpest minds and biggest investors in our city, took an entire morning out of their busy schedules to wait for the opportunity to speak at a committee meeting. They unanimously spoke out in favor of laying the tracks for the Milwaukee streetcar. Michael Cudahy, Greg Marcus, Barry Mandel, David Lubar, Jeffrey Jorres, Alex Molinaroli, Gary Grunau, Linda Gorens-Levey and Greg Wesle are all in agreement. That should mean something.

    Everyone shares Alderman Donovan’s concerns for budgets, the inner city, public transit, sustainable cities… There is a process for helping sculpt the solutions to the many problems and opportunities a city faces. There was a time for alternative plans, for throwing out new ideas, for shaping the project that became the Milwaukee streetcar. That time passed quite some time ago. The vote is on Feb. 10th, but the Milwaukee streetcar has left the station.

  10. Tom D says:

    In the past 3 weeks there have been at least four new transit schemes proposed by streetcar opponents:

    • Ald. Davis’ plan to run trains on the 30th Street rail line
    • The “Milwaukee Passenger Rail Company”
    • Ald. Donovan’s plan to blanket a 6-mile radius with 5 mini-buses
    • Ald. Donovan’s “Metroway” (“Premium” bus service)

    None of them are serious. All will disappear as soon as the final streetcar vote is taken (regardless of whether the streetcar passes).

  11. Frank says:

    He lost me at “archaic”. Once again he only tells a portion of the story.

  12. DC says:

    Donovan has some good points to make, but his approach will make even better sense when we have self-driving cars. The most expensive part of taking a taxi is paying the driver. When the taxi can drive itself; trollies, busses and trains will become obsolete in most instances. Affordable, self-driving cars, trucks and buses will be here sooner than most people realize. My guess – 2020, five years from now.

  13. Midthun says:

    Donovan fails to point out the number one reason to derail the streetcar project, buses and routes are EASY to cut as demonstrated by him, his cronies, and our former county exec. Imagine if “transit on demand” were proposed by anyone else! He would have opposed that as excessive. By the way, how will transit on demand spark economic development?

    “The purchasing power of the $91.5 million originally earmarked for downtown Milwaukee transit improvements has been severely eroded by the passage of time,” AND the efforts of obstructionists like Donovan. Please.

    In short, where were these proposals when the MCTS cuts were in vogue?

  14. Christopher Hillard says:

    I don’t want to weigh in on the merits of the proposed streetcar system, nor do I wish to dismiss Alderman Donovan’s proposal out of hand, but I do want to point out a certain irony in an example his proposal cites. When discussing the transit on demand buses Helsinki is used as an example where the system has worked. What is left out, however, is that in addition to this service Helsinki has a 13 line tram system. This is in addition to a bus system, ferries, a metro and commuter rail. I would also like to point out that, while a national capitol, Helsinki has a population of 565,474, a full 30,000 less people than Milwaukee. It may very well be that the on demand services fill a great niche for Helsinki riders, but in light of the City’s unbelievable transit infrastructure it is only that; a niche service that is a small component of a vast, multimodal transit system.

  15. Russell Rossetto says:

    @Christopher Hillard: Exactly right on your analysis. The vans are actually pretty cool, but not anywhere near a major component of a transit infrastructure. I just wanted to point out that your population number for Helsinki is from 2007. Wikipedia references numbers from the Population Register Center of Finland from 29 December 2014, showing a population of 621,863. Helsinki has overtaken Milwaukee in population. That’s pretty impressive growth.

    Why might this be? Let me quote more from the Wiki article:

    “In the Economist Intelligence Unit’s August 2012 Liveability survey, assessing the best and worst cities to live in, Helsinki placed eighth best overall.[12] In 2011, the Monocle Magazine in turn ranked Helsinki the most liveable city in the world in its Liveable Cities Index 2011.[13]

    12: “Liveabililty Ranking and Overview August 2012 – Economist Intelligence Unit”. Retrieved 12 March 2013.
    13: “Most liveable city: Helsinki — Monocle Film / Affairs”. Retrieved 12 March 2013.

    If we were to take a hint from Helsinki to promote liveability, one thing we would do is diversify, which means investing in, public transit in a permanent and meaningful way.

  16. Christopher Hillard says:

    @Russell. Thanks for the correction. City populations can be tricky, especially when dealing with cities overseas, because definitions of what constitutes the city proper can vary. That is my excuse. Regardless, like you said, the point stands, on demand buses are just one component of a diverse and extensive transit system in a city that is very close in population to Milwaukee.

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