After years of cutting the routes and services provided by the Milwaukee County Transit System, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker has once again flashed the possibility of having “express buses” in the County. While express bus service is not bad on the surface, there are several points that need a closer look.
First is the question of funding. Walker rejected using the federal stimulus money for the cash-strapped county when it became available earlier this year. But now he’s embraced the use of federal money — or at least the idea of using it. Walker took some time off from his hard-hitting bid for the governor’s office to talk up his proposed “rapid transit” route that would run from UWM, to downtown Milwaukee, and out to the County Grounds in Wauwatosa.
That doesn’t mean it will get used, though. The UWM chancellor’s grand vision of building an engineering campus on the the County Grounds in Wauwatosa is in jeopardy, partially due to philanthropist Michael Cudahy backing out of that project. With that sale of the land likely to dissolve, an actual hole in the budget appears — one that Walker wouldn’t have made up.
The idea of having rapid transit buses is not new. I proposed that very thing in my 2007-2008 bid for the county board. Walker followed suit a few months later by appearing with one of the very higher-capacity diesel hybrid buses that I had proposed using. Overlooking the fact that this event served to snub city government workers, these buses remain worth investigating.
Let’s say that Walker’s proposal goes through — an odd thing, but not out of the question — and an express bus route is put in. What will happen to the existing east-west routes? County Supervisor Chris Larson was quoted on WUWM-FM this morning saying that he predicts the county executive “would cut existing bus routes in the east-west corridor if the county creates the rapid transit line.” In other words, a few would be served by the shiny new buses, while much of the central city would be left in the lurch. The story also notes that “Larson believes the county executive will suggest gutting the current transit system, in order to pay for the rapid buses — increasing fares, and cutting routes.”
Big cuts to transit are seen as a real possibility in the forthcoming county budget proposal. The September 9 issue of the Shepherd Express asked some of the right questions about the local transit situation, including if a sales tax boost could rescue local transit.
Most shockingly, according to the Journal Sentinel, Walker has also called for “increasing the county tax levy support for paratransit by $1.1 million in 2010, to $3.5 million.” That’s right — Mr. Taxes Are Bad has called for a tax increase!
But it’s not money for transit, which is what the people of Milwaukee County voted for last year in overwhelming numbers. We also have yet to find out if Walker has gone with a proposal to impose a 25-cent transfer fee or to slash some ten bus routes. Raising fares and reducing service is a good way to kill the system, which is the opposite of what the people of Milwaukee County voted for.
That is why we need you to sign our petition, and ask your friends and your family help us tell state legislators and Governor Doyle to respect the will of the voters and take immediate action to allow Milwaukee County to authorize a 1% sales and use tax as a dedicated funding source for these services. You can do that right over here.